Signed OF-L Colby Rasmus to one-year, $15.8-million deal.
Colby Rasmus could have gotten a multi-year deal this winter. He’s heading into his age-29 season, and coming off his second above-average showing in three years. In 2015, he batted .238/.314/.475, good for a True Average of .283, and he was good with the glove as an all-spots outfielder. Sure, he struck out over 30 percent of the time, but given his patience, power, and defensive value, that really didn’t need to hold him back. Rasmus left money on the table by accepting this deal.
We should ask, though, what it is that spooked Rasmus into passing up free agency. We should ask it, but only for the sake of the set-up, because the answer is pretty obvious: Rasmus took this deal because Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales didn’t take theirs. Drew and Morales were each heading into their age-31 seasons in 2014, so the parallel isn’t perfect, but some of the other particulars are. Drew had a very high strikeout rate (though not one on par with Rasmus’). Morales had the lingering stigma of the injury he’d suffered leaping on home plate after a grand slam in 2010, and the hideously long path back to good health from there. Both guys had had two good seasons and one lost or decimated one over their prior three seasons, just as Rasmus has.
What both Drew and Morales found was that, though they were hardly the worst players offered the qualifying offer to that point, they were pariahs on the free-agent market. That’s because it’s a little bit harder for a position player to find a free-agent home than it is for a pitcher. Teams can always slide their fourth starter down to fifth if they decide to add in free agency. They can bump someone to the bullpen if they have to. Hardly any team enters any winter without being at least open to a significant expenditure on a starting pitcher, so guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Kyle Lohse have had only to sit and wait. Sooner or later, someone always got hurt, or some executive got nervous about his depth, and they were able to squeak in somewhere.
It’s not the same way with position players. Teams don’t want to give up a draft pick for a role player, so players have to find an honest fit, a place where they’ll be an average or better everyday player. That shrinks the pool of interested teams, not only because there are bound to be teams for whom the player wouldn’t represent an upgrade at their position, but because many of the ones who would materially benefit from adding that player will be non-contenders, and if you’re rebuilding, you don’t give up a draft pick for anything less than a superstar.
Rasmus really isn’t Drew or Morales. He’s younger, and just as importantly, he’s demonstrated adequacy at all three outfield spots. Unfortunately, under the qualifying-offer system, he had to respect the unfortunate precedent at hand, because there was a real chance the market would treat him like those two players. The players gave with both hands in the last CBA negotiations, and the gift just keeps on giving for owners. The Astros get a heck of a deal on a player they’re thrilled to have, and they don’t have to worry about upgrading their outfield without blocking anyone from stepping into that mix by 2017. Rasmus proved himself comfortable in Houston, accepting of his role on the team, and a perfect fit for their team-prescribed approach at the plate. That the Astros don’t have to pay him a dime in his 30s to get another go-around with him is great news for a team that has other things deserving of their focus this offseason.