You’d think that fans of a 19-42 team would be excited about a projected starter being on a minor league rehab assignment getting ready to rejoin the club. Raise your hand if you are excited about the impending return of Colby Rasmus. Didn’t think so.
Fans’ frustration with Rasmus began with rumors that the Orioles were close to signing him to a minor league deal and intensified with his abysmal start to the season. Now he’s nearing a return to the team, which for some reason thinks his presence will help. If Rasmus gets one more plate appearance for the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, it is one too many.
Thinking back to February, the decision to sign Rasmus was curious from the start. On the surface, he fit a need: left-handed outfielder on a team that was shopping for one. He has shown himself to be a solid hitter in the past, posting a WAR of 4.9 during the 2013 campaign. He holds his own against right-handed pitching (career slash line of .251/.317/.461) and was slated to be part of a right field platoon. That’s all fine.
But that’s where the match ended. The O’s took part in their annual off-season tradition of saying they want to improve on-base percentage; their .312 2017 OBP ranked 27th in the majors. Rasmus has a .310 career OBP. They recognized the fact that they strike out too much as a team. Rasmus struck out in 35% of his 2017 plate appearances. The O’s pledged to return to being a team whose defense could win games for them after a dreadful 2017 performance with their collective gloves. Rasmus is an average defender at best.
Perhaps most troubling is how Rasmus’ 2017 season ended. After going on the disabled list, he decided not to return to the Tampa Bay Rays. Speculation regarding this shouldn’t run too deep because perhaps there were personal or family issues (his wife was pregnant) going on that we aren’t aware of. But in the fraternity of baseball players, it would take a mighty good excuse to justify quitting on your team halfway through a season. Most took this decision as the equivalent of retirement.
Despite that, the Orioles gave him a minor league deal that would be worth $3 million if he made the team. The sense was given early on that the left-handed hitting outfielder job was his if he stayed healthy during the spring. He did and he made the team to the shock of many in the industry.
Rasmus performing at an acceptable level and filling a platoon role for a winning 2018 Orioles club would have made everything above moot. None of that happened. He was a regular in the lineup against right-handed pitching and posted a .095/.174/.143 slash line before getting injured on April 7. His season has included two hits and one walk in twenty three plate appearances while managing to strike out thirteen times. He was having a worse season than even Chris Da.... never mind, I won’t beat a dead horse.
Rasmus is now on a minor league rehab assignment and is 1-18 with seven strikeouts. And he got picked off after his lone base hit last night. Those numbers require no commentary. Could the Warehouse possibly call up a player who fared that poorly against minor league pitching? Buck Showalter is at least aware of the situation, saying “He got his at-bats in. Not a whole lot of production yet as far as statistically, but he’s getting his reps in.”
We haven’t yet been told when Rasmus will be back in Baltimore or what his role will be upon returning. But I know that as a fan, I’m already subjected to watching a team that told us they would try to contend this season limp along at a .311 win percentage pace. Making Colby Rasmus part of that team at this point is cruel and unusual punishment. (Only slightly exaggerated.)
If the Orioles were competing for a playoff spot, the return of a lefty bat with a track record is worth a shot, especially considering Showalter’s preference towards veterans with said track records. But as the O’s inevitably start turning an eye toward the future, Rasmus serves absolutely no purpose. Even if he helps them win a game or two, what difference does it make? It could cost them the first overall pick!
I’m not necessarily advocating for a “PLAY THE KIDS” approach here. The calls for top outfield prospects such as Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, and Austin Hays are becoming deafening throughout Birdland, and understandably so. Whether they are ready now is up for debate and it is at least defensible not to have them all in the Baltimore outfield immediately.
What I am saying is that I would much rather watch a player like Joey Rickard, who has at least a chance of factoring into the club’s long-term plans, get playing time that would be given to Rasmus. Yes, Rasmus bats from the left side and Rickard doesn’t. But is that of great concern for a team that is 23 games out of first place?
The only three directions the Orioles can head in from here are trying to put the best product on the field for the remainder of 2018, retooling for 2019, or completely tearing this team down. Can you think of any way Colby Rasmus helps reach one of those goals? I can’t.