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Rays have had "Discussions" with Colby Rasmus

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Discussions is a fascinating word here, because it's not every day we get a Rays rumor, and when they do leak out they take some deciphering.

The full rumor, from Jon Morosi, was a simple "#Rays have had discussions with free agent Colby Rasmus, source says." He followed with some speculation that a Ben Zobrist trade would be required, but neglects the already loaded Rays roster.

Among the eleven non-catcher position players normally carried by the Rays, finding a place for Rasmus is about more than dealing Zobrist. The outfield is currently set to rotate between Souza, Jennings, Kiermaier, and DeJesus, with the fourth man starting at Designated Hitter. Remove Zobrist, and the infield fills in with Longoria, Loney, Yunel Escobar, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Using the 40-man roster as guide, the bench is likewise full with Brandon Guyer and Logan Forsythe locked in, and Nick Franklin ready to return to The Show.

Forsythe and Franklin each have two option years remaining, but it's unlikely that the Rays would subtract from their infield to add another outfielder. Both are projected to the bench, at a minimum, for their defensive range. Souza (2) and Kiermaier (3)  have option years remaining, but each seems cemented in starting roles. Souza takes on left field in the absence of Matt Joyce, and Kiermaier's stellar glove takes right field. in the absence of Myers.

There's a non-zero chance The Outlaw might be platooned next season, but Kiermaier and Rasmus both bat left handed. Likewise, swapping out-of-options Brandon Guyer for Rasmus is not logical positionally, as the Rays would lack an obvious right handed compliment to David DeJesus.

Yet here we are, discussing another player from a former Kevin Cash team.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

Colby Rasmus is an Enigma, as labeled by Drew Fairservice late last year. Across his last five seasons, Rasmus's age 23 and 26 seasons were 4- and 5-WAR seasons, but the other three were nearly replacement level. After breaking out in 2010, disagreements with the coaching staff in St. Louis shipped the long haired center fielder to Toronto, where his bat was nearly dead-on-arrival into 2012, leading to further scrutiny of his career.

Rasmus is a tinkerer, though, and he put together his best season in 2013. Everything finally went right that season, by all accounts Rasmus clicked with his coaches and followed traditional defensive positioning to great success. His bat likewise benefited from an in-play batting average above .350, as it had in his breakout year for the pull hitter.

Unfortunately, Rasmus followed that career best with a hot and cold season at the plate in 2014. His fielding scores were likewise poor last season, but it's reasonable to wonder how much of that was Toronto's own tinkering. Mike Petriello did the leg work on that argument last month, and found that Rasmus was played shallow in center last season, for a team that was second overall in use of defensive shifts. The strategy was intentional for the Blue Jays, and led to poor defense from Rasmus. Still, poor performance on both sides of the ball, coupled with a hamstring injury, led to a late season benching to make way for prospects, and Rasmus's free agent value was tanked.

Overall, Rasmus looks to be an average defensive center fielder, with a loud left handed bat that's suffered a few years of poor contact rates and several infield fly balls. Entering his age-28 season and possibly injury prone, Colby Rasmus appears to be a roller coaster ride to league average performance. But if that's his baseline, it's surprising no other teams have settled for the potential of his 20-homerun bat.

Rasmus comes with a set of "character issues", which include disagreements with coaches and a helicopter-father who's overshadowed his son's career by causing his own trouble with staff. The 33% strikeout rate last season is gaudy, but a Rasmus signing would be about trying to catch lightning in a bottle, not signing the future to a long term deal.

That brings us back to "discussions."

The Rays are constantly juggling trade scenarios for pretty much every player on the team, particularly in the off-season and at the trade deadline mid-season. It's possible the Rays simply see a back-up plan in Rasmus if another outfielder is dealt from the roster - like another lefty in the outfield mix, David DeJesus (comp here). Rasmus is younger and probably cheaper, but far more volatile at the plate and (historically) in the clubhouse.

In a rather lengthy interview with TSN in Toronto, Rasmus had much to say about his career to this point. He describes himself as "relaxed" to a fault, calls his career a "crazy ride," and for his part, sounds like he just wants to find a place he would enjoy going to work every day.

Maybe an adjustment to the loose environment at the Rays is just what the doctor ordered, and maybe new manager Kevin Cash is the one saying that very thing to Rasmus and the front office. Center field power is a rarity, as is finding an in-expensive outfielder with 4-win potential at age 28 on a low-cost contract. It wouldn't be unlike the Rays to collect pieces now and sort it out later.

In the Drew Fairservice piece mentioned above, he lays out six different career comps for how Rasmus could develop, including the likes of B.J. Upton, Curtis Granderson, and Carlos Gomez. That's a wide range, but all serviceable at the big league level.

How the Rays evaluate his potential, and how the coaches feel about their ability to continue manipulating his swing and defensive positioning, will effect whether they want to take a flier on the young-but-experienced outfielder.