As Colby Rasmus crushes home runs in the 2015 postseason, I have to wonder how much the Orioles front office looks at him as one that got away. Back in the offseason, the Orioles were interested enough in Rasmus that Buck Showalter went to Alabama, where Rasmus lives, to see whether he might be a fit for the team.
At the time, I figured that the O's not signing Rasmus after the Showalter meeting meant they didn't like him all that much after all, but Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun now makes it quite clear that the O's didn't sign Rasmus because they were unwilling to offer him an extra million dollars, which Houston did, and so he signed there instead of here. That's worked out fairly well for the Astros, with Rasmus hitting 25 regular season home runs while batting .238/.314/.475.
The decision did not work out so well for the Orioles. Left fielders batted a combined .210/.287/.353 for Baltimore, which adds up to the third-worst OPS among left fielders in all of the AL. Over the course of the season, they designated for assignment two full outfields just trying to find some remotely acceptable production. They also made two trades for corner outfielders this calendar year, both of which ended up being nearly complete failures.
In his article, Connolly tries to forestall any griping by fans about not signing Rasmus with the reminder that the biggest problem for the O's was the starting rotation this year. That's true, as I've written plenty of times myself. The starting rotation sucked. That makes it matter a lot less that the Orioles did not choose to re-sign Nelson Cruz or Nick Markakis to multi-year deals. Those signings carried risk and greater cost far beyond just this season.
The true cost of not signing Rasmus
However, with Rasmus seeking only a one year deal, the total cost for taking a flier on him would have been much less for the O's. More than just that, as it ended up working out, it was NOT signing Rasmus that cost the Orioles a lot more than just a few million dollars.
Worth noting here is that there's no guarantee that Rasmus would have put up identical production in an Orioles uniform that he did in Houston. He could have done worse here. He also might have done better, given that Camden Yards is generally seen as a friendly place to play for left-handed power hitters who aren't named Bryce Harper. It's a short porch out there in right field, and even if you don't clear the porch, the out-of-town scoreboard hands out free singles and doubles like Halloween candy.
Within a week of missing out on Rasmus, the Orioles took action to try to find a left-handed hitting outfielder to take the spot that might have gone to him. That turned out to be a trade for Travis Snider. To get Snider, they gave up two minor league pitching prospects, Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault, both of whom went on to have good seasons in the Pittsburgh organization.
So before the season even began, their unwillingness to go an extra million for Rasmus cost them two pitchers on top of having to pay Snider's $2.1 million salary. The lack of any kind of corner outfield answer cost them another pitching prospect at the trade deadline, when they surrendered Zach Davies to Milwaukee in order to get Gerardo Parra, who they also ended up paying about $2 million. That was another move that didn't work out. Parra looked to be as great of a teammate in the dugout and clubhouse as he was a failure at the plate and in the field.
Moves like these are why you get publications like Fangraphs ranking the O's minor league starting pitching depth as 30th out of 30 MLB teams. Of course the presence of Tarpley, Brault, and Davies wouldn't have rocketed the Orioles into the top spot, or even the top ten, but it's quite clear that the O's would have just been better off spending money on Rasmus rather than spending prospects to get non-answers. Davies, in particular, could have been in the picture for a 2016 rotation that's already looking pretty dismal.
Rasmus has had a good enough season that he might even have played his way into qualifying offer territory. If that is what ends up happening, then Houston will likely end up getting an extra compensation pick at the end of the first round when Rasmus moves on elsewhere.
It's easy to say all of this in hindsight. There were sufficient reasons to be uncertain about the possibility of the O's signing him at the time. Although he had a decent enough .735 OPS last season, the way that broke down is that he batted only .225 with a .287 on-base percentage. He added to that a lot of strikeouts. Connolly again excuses the Orioles for not making the signing by noting that Rasmus, added to the O's lineup, would not have been a good match "for a club that still has its share of free-swingers."
He's not wrong that Rasmus would have been just another hacker around here. Then again, Houston rode Rasmus and a whole bunch of other home run-hitting, strikeout-prone hackers into the playoffs. Their starting rotation was a lot better, to be sure.
Missing out because of a million bucks
Yet by all indications, the Orioles were willing to spend $7 million on Rasmus. They liked him that much in spite of all of his apparent faults and question marks. They lost out on the chance to get him over a million bucks. They regularly flush away a million bucks or more on Dan Duquette's pet little signings. Heaven forbid that they might not have had the money to sign Everth Cabrera after spring training began.
Had he worked out here, Rasmus would have only been able to cover one corner outfield spot, and as we well saw, the O's existing choices for the other spot were not great. There's no doubt that the team would have been better off. One settled corner outfield spot would have been better than what we had this year.
There's that old proverb that begins, "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost," which ends with a kingdom being lost all because of that missing nail. The Orioles composed their own version when they didn't sign Rasmus. No, the whole franchise hasn't been lost. Still, for want of a million dollars, this year's team was worse off. So is the rotation picture for next year and the farm system's pitching depth into the near future.
The Orioles front office does not have an infinite budget. Surely they had their reasons for sticking to their guns on Rasmus at $7 million. But the thing about free agents, especially on one year contracts, is that even the bad or meh signings only cost money for a year. It's a whole lot easier for a baseball team to get more money than it is for the team to get more pitching prospects. That doesn't mean sign anybody for any cost. Missing out on a player for the sake of a small amount of money is not something they can afford to do.
By not signing Rasmus this year, the O's cost themselves in a big way. The next time a chance like this presents itself, we can only hope that they don't cost themselves even more over not being willing to go for that extra million dollars.