In this guest post from Kyle Matte we get a look at what the future holds for Colby Rasmus, as he begins his final season before free agency, and whether the Jays can keep him. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.
When Major League Baseball’s newest Collective Bargaining Agreement was under discussion, both sides acknowledged that the Type A/Type B free agent compensation system needed to be re-worked. It put numerous players in a position where their leverage was being artificially hauled down by a mechanism that offered them little to no benefit. The acceptance of arbitration would at best gain them a one-year deal, and because of the way salary escalation was handled, even the best players were looking at maybe a 20% raise on their previous year’s earnings. Always seeking the security of a long term deal, the offer was almost universally declined.
The two sides came up with the Qualifying Offer – a way to protect teams from losing elite free agents for nothing, while limiting the number of mid-tier free agents carrying draft pick compensation because of the hefty figure involved: a one year deal with a guaranteed salary equal to the average of the top 125 players in all of baseball. Part of that plan has certainly come to fruition. Heading into 2011, 83 free agents had draft pick compensation attached: 33 Type A, 50 Type B. In the two years since the Qualifying Offer was implemented, just 9 and 13 free agents have felt the draft pick noose hung around their neck. What likely wasn’t a part of the plan is that the non-elite free agents still being tagged are finding a market more unwelcoming than ever before, as front offices have proven increasingly protective of their draft picks and bonus money. Some fault must be placed on the agents for misreading the market their clients were jumping head-first into, but any system that prevents above average talent like Stephen Drew from finding legitimate, fair contracts is obviously flawed. Kendrys Morales: there are simply no words for your decision making process.
This system is relevant to Toronto, as come the end of the 2014 season, one of our own will be marching into free agency: Colby Rasmus. Mind you, we thought much the same last year, and we saw how that turned out with Josh Johnson. The situation with Rasmus is different, however, for two main reasons. The first is that he’s been healthy; his 458 plate appearances in 2013 were a career low, and he still had his most productive output. The second is that he’s a position player. Of the 22 players to receive qualifying offers, 16 have been of the non-pitcher persuasion. Teams have, perhaps wisely, been especially wary of spending big on free agent pitchers the last couple of years.
Beyond his health and non-pitcher status, Rasmus has a number of things working in his favor. Colby will be just 28 years old on Opening Day 2014, which would tie him with B.J. Upton as the youngest free agent to receive the Qualifying Offer. Additionally, he’s already displayed an elite-level peak. His 4.8 fWAR in 2013 places him in the company of Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-SooChoo, Michael Bourn, Curtis Granderson, and Mike Napoli as players who exceeded 4.5 fWAR in any of the three seasons leading up to their free agency. Finally, Rasmus plays an up-the-middle position (catcher, second base, shortstop, center field). Seven signed players met that criteria, and the average contract from that group was an astounding 6 years and 113 million. That is not a prediction of what he will make, merely a guarantee that barring a meteorically catastrophic 2014 season, Colby Rasmus will receive a Qualifying Offer from the Toronto Blue Jays, and he will decline it.