Friday, 20 December 2013

Taking a Closer Look at a Colby Rasmus Extension

Colby Rasmus just had an outstanding season. In a year where Adam Jones made his third All-Star Game appearance and Jacoby Ellsbury secured a $153 million deal, Rasmus was right up with his AL East counterparts in performance. Colby's 4.8 fWAR was second only to Ellsbury's 5.8 fWAR in the division. He was even better than Ellsbury on a per-PA basis, on pace for 6.3 fWAR over a full season (600 PA). Unsurprisingly, he was also Toronto's best player, despite playing only 118 games. It was indeed an outstanding season for Colby Rasmus.

What happens now? With Rasmus only a year away from free agency, the Jays have some decisions to make. According to Bob Elliot, Rasmus is “on the market” and “has been offered to two teams” as the club looks to address its needs in the rotation. Anthopoulos denied putting Rasmus on the market, saying that every player is available, but that the return would have to overwhelm the Jays to act. While the trade option has been explored, the extension option has gotten less play. So what would a Colby Rasmus extension actually look like?

Tale of the Tape

Two recent comps that stick out immediately are B.J. Upton and Adam Jones.

Colby Rasmus:

Contract: projected $6.5 million salary in final year of arbitration (free agent after 2014)
2012: .276/.338/.501, 130 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR, 4.8 rWAR (age 26 season)

B.J. Upton

Contract: 5 year/$75.25 million free agent contract (November 2012)
2012: .246/.298/.454, 108 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR, 2.9 rWAR (age 27 season)

Adam Jones:

Contract: 6 year/$85.5 million extension (May 2012)
2011: .280/.319/.466, 109 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR, 3.2 rWAR (age 25 season)
2012: .311/.357/.601, 196 PA, at time of extension (age 26 season)

Rasmus vs. Upton

First, let's see how B.J. Upton and Colby Rasmus stack up. WAR per season: 

The first thing that sticks out is that they both followed a similar trend in performance from their age 22 to age 25 seasons. However, Upton followed that trend at a higher level of performance. Their best seasons (age 23) are somewhat comparable; 4.0 fWAR for Rasmus vs. 4.8 fWAR for Upton. But the key difference lies in their age 24 seasons. It was the low point for both players in that range, with Upton putting up 2.2 fWAR and Colby putting up 0.5 fWAR. At worst, Upton was still a regular. At worst, Colby was close to being a replacement level player. They both rebounded somewhat in their age 25 seasons, but Upton did so by a larger margin, which is also worth nothing.

The relevant ages for comparing where they were going into negotiations are Colby's age 26 (2013) and Upton's age 27 (2012) seasons. This is where Rasmus has the advantage. Heading into free agency last offseason, Upton had essentially stagnated, but was still a productive player. Colby saw a huge spike in performance and, as we know by now, is coming off a season where he produced like an All-Star. 

The way in which Rasmus and Upton attained those totals is also somewhat similar. 

C. Rasmus
B.J. Upton

Upton: .242/.317/.436 (2010-2012)
Rasmus: .276/.338/.501 (2013)

A large part of the difference in the batting lines above can be attributed to the fact that Rasmus posted a much higher BABIP. Beyond that, we see a common theme; lots of strikeouts, a decent number of walks, and power. The Upton line gives us a good idea of what Colby might be when some BABIP regression does inevitably occur, given the similarities in their profiles. In fact, that batting line is nearly identical to what Steamer and Oliver are projecting for Rasmus in 2014:

Steamer: .248/.321/.450
Oliver: .246/.319/.451

The only difference is a slightly higher slugging, which we should expect since Rasmus has indeed hit for a little more power than Upton in the past (see ISO above). We may be on to something here!

Rasmus vs. Jones

Next up is Adam Jones. Lets start by looking at cumulative WAR. Age 26 is the relevant season for both players; Jones signed his extension in the middle of that season and Colby has just completed his age 26 season.

Again, there is something that stands out immediately. Through their age 25 and age 26 seasons, Jones and Rasmus were nearly identical in terms of cumulative WAR. The difference lies in how they got there. Single season WAR by age:

We know the story of Rasmus at this point. Great, bad, bad, great. Adam Jones, on the other hand, takes the opposite path. He starts out as a young, below average player, delivering 1.6 wins in each of his 22 and 23 seasons. The young, below average player improves and becomes an average player over his age 24 and 25 seasons, putting up 2.6 wins in each of those seasons. Finally, in his age 26 season, he delivers on his promise and explodes, performing at an All-Star level. We can't take the 4.3 fWAR he put up in his age 26 season at full face value, as he signed his extension in the middle of the season. But given the fact that he was hitting .311/.357/.601 at the time of his extension, I think it's safe to say it looked an awful lot like a breakout.

The path these two players followed in arriving at the same point matters. Adam Jones got 6 years and $85.5 million. He was a young player who was full of tools, showed consistent improvement, and proved that he could make adjustments at the major league level. His breakout was expected. I'm sure the Orioles will go even further and say it was fated. It just made so much sense. So when it happened, it was easier to accept it as something real and lay down a mountain of cash to hold on to it. How many people felt this way about Rasmus heading into the 2013? The tools and youth were certainly there, but all we got from 2011-2012 were flashes. The consistency and logical progression are absent in his path and that makes his second breakout harder to accept as something real. He could have just as easily had another subpar season in 2013 and almost nobody would have been shocked.

To be more succinct, Adam Jones was a far less risky proposition and got payed accordingly. If Rasmus wants to cash in at that level, he's going to have to be the same, and that means putting up another good season in 2014.

The Decision 

As things stand now, the most I'd offer Rasmus is 5 years and $62.5 million. That might feel like a low-ball offer given the season he just had and what free agents are getting on the market, but there's just too much volatility in his performance to make a significantly higher guarantee at this point. The middle ground between his great and not-so-great seasons is still a good player, but the problem is he's only performed to that level once, and it was his rookie season all the way back in 2009. Since then he's either been amazing, or just bad. Normally I'd have more faith in a player being able to attain that middle ground, but given the inherent risk in his profile, it's not at all a sure thing. B.J. Upton, who as alluded to earlier has a very similar profile at the plate, fell apart out of nowhere in 2013 and was below replacement level. 

Of course leaving it at that would be unfairly negative, and there is a chance he can be that good, middle ground, 3.0 win player over the next five years. Otherwise, why even offer $62.5 million, right? That leads us to the other option; wait. Make him an even lower maximum offer that is further below market and hope that he takes it because he's comfortable playing in Toronto and wants the guarantee over the free agent experience. If he doesn't take it, which would likely be the case, agree to a one year deal or go through the arbitration process and reassess mid-season. Anthopoulos himself has alluded to this as a possibility. If Rasmus continues to produce in 2014, suddenly it goes from another one year blip to a continuation of a second “breakout” campaign and the team might be more comfortable giving him a sizable guarantee. It'll certainly cost them more to extend him at that point though. Given his proximity to free agency and the fact that he would, presumably, be raking, Rasmus' camp might even want something north of the $85.5 million guarantee Adam Jones received. Waiting might be prudent, but it could also end up being very costly.

Between the rotation, second base, finding a platoon partner for Adam Lind, and filling the bench, the decisions the Blue Jays have left to make have been written about extensively this offseason. Don't forget to add Colby Rasmus to that list.

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