During and after the Winter Meetings, Kevin Cash and the Rays front office had stressed the pressing need to add outfield depth behind Kevin Kiermaier in center field this off season.
Just over a month later, the Rays had added Colby Rasmus, a plus defender who will help give the Rays one of the top outfields in all of baseball. He also represents a solid replacement in center field if Kevin Kiermaier happens to get injured once more.
During the 2015-2016 off-season, Colby Rasmus made waves as he became the first player to accept the ‘Qualifying Offer’ from his club. This came after a season in which Rasmus slashed .238/.314/.475, put up a career high 25 HR, and accrued 2.9 fWAR, but instead of trying cash in on the open market, he went back to Houston in hopes of a repeat season and possibly an even bigger payday the following off-season.
Things didn’t quite go according to plan for Rasmus. He struggled with injuries for most of the 2016 season, including a cyst in his ear that caused extreme vertigo, a condition he played with for an undisclosed amount of time that surely hampered his performance.
Rasmus had the worst offensive season of his eight year major league career, putting up a measly 75 wRC+ over 107 games. However, his strong outfield defense still provided enough value to place him above replacement level with 1.4 fWAR. The Rays were able to take advantage of his down year, scooping him up with a one year deal that could pay Rasmus a total of $7M, with a guarantee of $5M.
The Rays entered the off-season with an outfield consisting of Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza, Mikie Mahtook, and Johnny Field as depth if needed. Since then, the Rays front office has been proactive in securing quality depth as they have brought in Rasmus, as well as Mallex Smith and Shane Peterson. The Rays will not get caught in as flatfooted as they were in 2016.
However, all of that depth now raises an interesting question as to where everyone will play. Rasmus’ plus defense makes it likely he will be starting in the outfield, but it’s not yet known which corner he’ll guard. He has spent the bulk of his career patrolling center field, but over the past two years he has shifted over to left field.
Rasmus put up 20 Defensive Runs Saved in 2016, which put him 4th in the majors of outfielders with at least 650 innings played (and this is while playing hurt) so he’ll be fantastic wherever the Rays place him out there and with Kevin Kiermaier on his left or right, the Rays outfield defense should be among the best in the majors.
Rasmus should slot into the bottom of the Rays lineup and provide some decent pop from there as he’s averaged nearly 20 HR per season over his career. In 2016 he was about as awful as he could be against left-handed pitching, but he is still just a year removed a 2015 season in which had a 135 wRC+ against southpaws so there’s reason to expect some positive regression there.
Rasmus should provide the team with Gold Glove caliber defense, and he’ll give the team some extra lumber towards the bottom of the batting order. Picking up Colby Rasmus could turn out to be one of the best signings in club history if he simply returns to his career norms.