Signed OF-L Colby Rasmus to a one-year, $5 million contract. [1/10]
Though Joe Sheehan might reject the idea that teams are willing to play the platoon game due to the rise of 12- and 13-man pitching staffs, there are still a few teams willing to get their handedness advantage on the regular. The Rays, with precious few other options with which to work, are one of those teams, consistently assembling lineups with cobbled-together parts and half-hitters. Acquiring Rasmus after his late-20s nadir is an example of a team trying to pick up a depressed asset and leverage his left-handed power to prop up a lineup that was pretty iffy last season.
We’ve been waiting on Rasmus’ breakout for almost a decade it seems, but now we could be witnessing his breakdown. His 2016 campaign was a challenge, as Rasmus dealt with several injuries including a cyst in his ear. When he was on the field, he was a more extreme version of the hitter he’s always been: more ups and downs than a day operating the Tower of Terror at Disney. Rasmus once profiled as something of a five-tool outfielder, but now he’s a slugging-only corner outfielder with a serious OBP problem. The scraggly-haired outfielder lost half of his extra-base hits from 2015 to 2016, and that pulled his slugging down to .355 and his overall value down to replacement level. Despite years of success, Rasmus wasn’t much better than your average Quad-A outfielder last year; this continues a trend of a good year followed by a bad one.
Is he already superfluous with Mallex Smith’s acquisition in the Drew Smyly trade? Maybe, maybe not; the season has a way of thinning the outfield herd. And Smith will be around long after Rasmus ends his one-and-done term with the Rays. But before then, he’ll add more power and more strikeouts to an outfield that has a few contact issues already. Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier did a great job dragging the team’s OBP down all through 2016, and Rasmus isn’t likely to help that issue. But if he can play decent defense in a corner and hit for enough power to drive in the Rays hitters who can reach base, perhaps this will turn out to be another low-cost, medium-reward acquisition for Tampa Bay. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed RHP Tyson Ross to a one-year, $6 million contract. [1/13]
The offseason’s most surprising non-tender (sorry, Chris Carter!) has finally found a home, as the Rangers inked Ross to a deal that perhaps 20 teams would liked to have on their books. They’ll get the talented starter for less than a full season, but how much less is anybody’s guess. After just one appearance last season (on Opening Day, no less), Ross must now try to come back from thoracic outlet surgery, which is a bit of a mixed bag to say the least. Many of the pitchers to come out the other side of TOS are diminished versions of their former selves, but some (like Chris Carpenter, Chris Young, and Mike Foltynewicz) come back strong. Like the Mets and their erstwhile ace Matt Harvey, the Rangers are hoping that Ross comes back strong enough to be one of the league's best no. 3 starters, rather than a cautionary tale.
If we’ve learned one thing about injury-plagued starting pitchers on one-year contracts, it’s that they don’t often turn out to be positives for the signing team. Look at Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, Shaun Marcum, and the cast of thousands brought in by teams looking to catch some of the old lightning in a bottle and then either ride the lightning to the playoffs or sell the lightning to another team looking to do just that. These moves don’t often work out, but there are two reasons to like this particular flavor. The first is Ross’ raw talent, which meets or exceeds many of the other pitchers of this type; the second is the bargain cost of just $6 million guaranteed.
When he’s on–and he was on from 2013 to 2015–Ross is a premium starter due to a swing-and-miss slider and a sinker that generates tons of ground balls. While pitching in Petco Park certainly must’ve minimized his home runs allowed, his peripherals are likely to look good in any park. Perhaps the biggest question might be Ross’s control coming off a season of rehab and surgery. His walk rate has been relatively high at 3.6 walks per nine innings over his career, so there’s not a whole lot of room for elevating that mark. Diminished velocity and movement are also post-surgery concerns, plus the fact that he may not be ready for the start of the season. The risk is high, but the talent level makes any $6 million commitment seem worthwhile–the upside is a starter at or just below ace-level talent.
Texas’s rotation depth behind superlative talents Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels is Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, and A.J. Griffin, so it makes sense for the team to take a flier on a high-upside, high-risk arm like Ross. (Though, to be fair, it makes sense for almost any team to risk less than eight figures on him.) Without Ross, there will be a lot of pressure on the team’s offense, which is now missing several bats from last season’s run, to carry the team through the long fight of the season. While that’s hardly new for a Rangers team that’s not featured world-beating pitching over the past decade, the improved Astros and Mariners in their division could pull away if a key injury crops up in Arlington.
To end this piece on a too-precious metaphor, imagine all the players in baseball as different sources of light. Babe Ruth is (still) the sun, the massive ball of gas that the national pastime revolves around. Kevin Kiermaier is the spotlight atop a Maine lighthouse, warding away incoming vessels. Bartolo Colon is a festive string of multi-colored Christmas lights, festooning the eaves of a home and always making someone smile. Luke Maile is one of a thousand fluorescent tubes lining the ceiling of a Costco. Got all that? Cool.
Ross is a signal flare, burning bright and strong, drawing all eyes, but for a limited time. At first with the Athletics he was unneeded, replaceable, superfluous. With the Padres he was a light in the darkness, perhaps briefly confused with a star, then snuffed. Now with the Rangers he is a desperate attempt to call forth the World Series that has eluded them, to rescue the team from another season of disappointment. If nothing else, he is hope. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed C-R Chris Iannetta to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [1/13]
The Diamondbacks are choosing three catchers where Welington Castillo once sufficed, signing Iannetta to complement Jeff Mathis and Chris Herrmann. He brings the potential for power when he's hitting well and strong on-base skills all the time. Even as his batting average has hovered around the Mendoza Line for the past two seasons, Iannetta has maintained a respectable on-base percentage, which is something that should hold up the back of the Diamondbacks’ lineup rather nicely.
There is also the potential for some power, which is especially important when his overall numbers have declined the past couple of seasons and his defense dropped off significantly after a surprisingly strong showing in that regard in 2015. Last season, Iannetta was among the league’s worst pitch framers, but in 2015 he was in the top five. The Diamondbacks will need him to rediscover that magic in order to compensate for tepid output with the bat.
With three catchers, however, Iannetta’s role will not be sizable. He will turn 34 years old during the season's opening week, and unless Herrmann spends a lot of time in the outfield instead of behind the plate Iannetta is unlikely to see much more than 250 plate appearances. —Jared Wyllys
Signed UT-L Alexi Amarista to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. [1/10]
“In case of emergency, break glass” should be written on the box surrounding Amarista’s locker and person. At any second, Bud Black should be able to charge into the clubhouse with a mallet and shatter his cage, allowing the diminutive utility man to take the field at a moment’s notice in case of injury, player ineffectiveness, or the impending heat death of the universe. No matter where the hole in your defensive is, Amarista will cover it.
He’s an absolute star when it comes to my McEwing Score metric, a measure of players' positional utility. Each season, he ranks among the top players in terms of number of positions played in multiple games and belongs with players like Sean Rodriguez and Brock Holt on the list of most versatile defenders of the 2010s. He can ably man any position, from the depths of the hole at shortstop to any shallow right field porch. (Though he’s yet to play catcher, there’s no doubt in my mind he can and would ably don the tools of ignorance and acquit himself admirably behind the dish.) Need a garbage out to save the bullpen in a blowout? No big deal! Amarista has faced two batters–one in each of the past two seasons–and retired them on contact.
There’s just one place you don’t want to see Amarista on the field: the batter’s box. In his early days with the Padres his bat was serviceable and his speed enabled him to scrap enough at the plate to embarrass himself. But the last two years have been a different story entirely, with god-awful .205 and .208 True Averages. That’s bottom-of-the-barrel bad, and given that they were his age-26 and age-27 years perhaps we should use them as a reminder that not every ballplayer (or person) peaks when expected.
The Rockies have a very solid infield, featuring two All-Stars in Nolan Arenado and D.J. LeMahieu, as well as Trevor Story and whomever the team finds to play first base. (I refuse to believe that the acquisition of Ian Desmond to play first is anything other than a bizarre fever dream or mass hallucination.) Amarista should be an excellent defensive caddy at all of those positions, allowing the defensive dropoff from Arenado or LeMahieu to be more manageable than the slide to, say, Cristhian Adames or Pat Valaika. With that said, extended playing time for the Little Ninja would mean something has gone very wrong in Colorado. Like all good safety nets, Amarista should be used very infrequently. —Bryan Grosnick