The Tampa Bay Rays have significantly upgraded their outfield with their latest impending free agent signing.
Scratch another offseason need off the Tampa Bay Rays “to do” list as they have agreed to sign former Houston Astros outfielder free agent Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, who was among the first to report the free agent signing.
Rasmus confirmed the deal; however, there has been no official word from the Tampa Bay Rays on his signing as they await the results on his impending physical. Rasmus, an eight-year veteran has played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and for the last two seasons, the Houston Astros.
Although he is not the right-handed bat that was initially sought, Rasmus is solid defensively, has an excellent arm and significantly upgrades the Rays offense and defense. Speculation is that Rasmus will play leftfield, occasionally DH and spell Kiermaier in centerfield.
After an excellent 2015 season in which he hit .238/.314/.475 with 25 homers, the Astros offered him a qualifying offer of a one-year, $15.8 million deal that he accepted.
2016 was a major disappointment, as injuries limited his playing time to just 107 games as he hit just .206/.286/.355 with 15 homers.
During the season, Rasmus battled vertigo like symptoms before finally undergoing surgery to remove a cyst in his ear in August and as well played through oblique and groin issues, which required surgeries in October. Bill Chastain of MLB.com writes that he will be ready for spring training.
One of the areas that the Rays wanted to improve on for 2017 was their defense, which was lacking immensely in 2016 as evident by their 94 errors, specifically the first half when they committed 55 errors in 88 games that ranked them 20th in the majors. Here is where Rasmus will shine for the Rays – leftfield, a vast improvement over Corey Dickerson.
In as much as the Rays were looking for a corner outfielder/DH type adding Rasmus is a better all-around fit in the long run of things. During Kiermaier’s absence in 2016, the Rays used Mikie Mahtook, Desmond Jennings, Jaff Decker, Taylor Motter and others, as they had no true centerfielder depth within the organization.
The addition of Rasmus also could mean the end of Dickerson in leftfield, other than for an occasional start. Dickerson’s role will primarily be used as the designated hitter. Additionally, Steven Souza Jr. could also see less playing time, especially if his offensive production doesn’t increase.
Despite Rasmus and Souza Jr. with almost exact DRS and defensive abilities, Rasmus has a better offensive upside coming into the 2017 season especially if he remains healthy and can return to his 2015 form.
On the other hand, Rasmus like so many of the Rays left-handed batters has problems hitting lefties.
Career wise Rasmus’ slash line against lefties is .212/.291/.362/.656 with 32 HR and 107 RBI, and against righties is .251/.317/.458/775 with 124 HR and 360 RBI.
A positive note for the Rays and Rasmus is that he will be reunited with Chad Mottola, the Rays’ hitting coach who held the same title with Toronto when Rasmus had a career-best season for Toronto in 2013. It was this season when Rasmus put up his best batting average of .276 with 22 HR and 66 RBI that went with a an OBP of .338, .501 slugging percentage and an OPS of .840.
With the 28th pick in the 2005 Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals selected Rasmus as a compensation pick from the Boston Red Sox signing of free agent Edgar Renteria, however it was not until 2009 when he made his major league debut having made the Cardinals opening day roster.
He remained with the Cardinals until a trade in July 2011 that sent him to Toronto where he would play until he elected to go the free agency route for the first time following the 2014 season and would then sign a one-year deal with Houston in January 2015. Following a very successful first year in Houston, Rasmus became the first player in MLB history to accept a qualifying offer, signing a one-year, $15.8 million contract to return to Houston.
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Once the deal is completed and official, the Rays will need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, whether it be by trade or other means. Speculation on my part is that the Rays will make a trade, likely to include one of their starters – Drew Smyly or Alex Cobb.