The Orioles lost Nelson Cruz to the Mariners, and Nick Markakis will be playing for the Braves next season. So the O's are currently exploring all corner outfield possibilities. Last week, according to Ken Rosenthal, the O's were considered as a potential landing spot for Colby Rasmus:
Another option the #Orioles may consider if they lose Markakis in addition to Cruz - Colby Rasmus on a short deal.And yesterday, Jon Heyman shared similar information. Heyman also mentioned Norichika Aoki as an option for the Orioles; Matt Perez covered that topic several weeks ago.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 2, 2014
And sure, Rasmus should be an option. The Orioles may have to piece their outfield together, especially if they don't end up trading for Matt Kemp or Justin Upton or signing Melky Cabrera. (We've previously written about the Kemp and Cabrera options.) A trade for Upton seems unlikely as well, as the O's are hesitant to meet the Braves' lofty asking price for a single year of Upton's services. Acquiring Upton for the entire 2015 season would give the O's an opportunity to extend him the qualifying offer, which he would surely decline, netting the team another draft pick. But to do so in exchange for, say, Dylan Bundy does not seem wise.
Rasmus, 28, took a step back after a strong 2013 (129 wRC+) and hit more in line with his career average in 2014 (103 wRC+). MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Rasmus will get a one-year, $12 million deal, which would provide him with an opportunity to reestablish his value and seek a more lucrative offer for 2016. However, last season does seem to provide a more accurate representation of his overall talent level, so he may be wise to take a multiyear deal if he's presented with one.
In 2013, Rasmus had a BABIP of .356 (career .298) that boosted his stat line. His BABIP plummeted to .294 in 2014. Oddly enough, after a career high 17.3% HR/FB rate in 2013, that number jumped again to 2014 (19.4%). But he also hit fewer fly balls overall, walked less, and struck out more. Rasmus didn't help himself plate discipline wise, either. He chased more pitches outside the strikezone (33.9%) than his career low 2013 season (29.7%; career 31.4%). He swung more overall than in any season since 2011, and he had career worst contact rates on pitches inside and outside of the strikezone. Opposing pitchers also didn't find it necessary to throw him as many pitches inside the zone (career low 44.1 Zone%).
As a left-handed batter, Rasmus does not hit lefties well at all (77 wRC+). He has been somewhat better the last two seasons (2013: 91 wRC+; 2014: 92 wRC+), but that still isn't very good. Meanwhile, he's a career 112 wRC+ hitter against right-handed pitching. That is useful but not great.
Fortunately for Rasmus, he can play center field, where some offensive deficiencies can be excused if the defensive results are there. In more than 6,000 career innings in center field, Rasmus has a -2.8 UZR but a +9 DRS. So at worst he's been about average in center field, and maybe he's a bit better than that. He's only played about 90 combined innings in left and right field, so there's really no sample size to work with, but decent center fielders typically project as at least above average corner outfielders. And with Adam Jones manning center field and Markakis gone, Rasmus would likely be slotted in right field.
Realistically, Rasmus is a slightly better version of De Aza (production wise):
De Aza overall: 99 wRC+ (Rasmus: 103)
vs. RHP: 103 wRC+ (Rasmus: 112)
vs. LHP: 85 wRC+ (Rasmus: 77)
Both are near or at the major league average 103 wRC+ that outfielders posted in 2014. And against right-handed pitching, De Aza in left and Rasmus in right, with Steve Pearce at designated hitter, would be decent. It's certainly preferable to a four-year deal for Markakis. Markakis had a 106 wRC+ last season, and Steamer projects him to have a 105 wRC+ in 2015. (And he's also likely going to have neck surgery.) Meanwhile, Rasmus is projected by Steamer to have a wRC+ of 101. The key to that comparison is probably how you view each player's defensive abilities. They are at least close value wise moving forward. And Rasmus is also three years younger, more likely to have a breakout season, and could possibly be signed to a low-risk, high-reward deal for a single year.
Aoki could be a better option than Rasmus, and he does bring better on-base skills to the table. But it's not as if Markakis was some insane on-base machine who the O's need to replace at any cost. Dan Duquette is focused on value, as he should be. Markakis's production can be replaced, though it won't be easy to replicate, in any makeshift sort of way, the kind of production Cruz offered last season. But it's a step-by-step process to replace missing pieces, and there are available players out there who could help the O's, even if they aren't splashy names. Rasmus wouldn't be the ideal free agent signing, but he could help, and I'd favor Aoki and Rasmus over other options like Cabrera and Michael Morse. If the O's surprisingly decide to target multiple restricted free agents, though, like they did last season, then Cabrera would start to make more sense.
Photo via Keith Allison