As promised to those who follow me on twitter (@dabynsky coincidentally enough), I am going to make the case here that the Cubs should aggressively pursue Colby Rasmus this offseason. To start with though, I want to make it clear that I do not view Colby Rasmus as a difference maker. He is not going to completely change the complexion of the lineup. He is not going to change this team from a 60 win team to a 90 win team. He is not going to accomplish all that. I do think however, that Rasmus has a lot to offer and that he fits the opening window of competitiveness that everyone is hoping is right on the horizon.
That opening window is the first component for signing Colby Rasmus. John Arguello laid out a very good case for acquiring major league talent a few days ago here.
The simple version is that the Cubs have a wave of talent arriving this year, such as hasn't been seen on the north side in a decade, as I showed here. The front office will have a tremendous amount of financial flexibility for the first time in their tenure in Chicago. The Cubs estimated commitments for next year, assuming all arbitration players are tendered and club options picked up, is 64.8 according to Baseball Reference. 11 million of that is tied into picking up options for Jose Veras and Kyuji Fujikawa. The Cubs payroll the previous two years was in the 105-110 million range. That should mean that the Cubs have the ability to spend somewhere between 50 and 60 million dollars in the 2014 offseason. The Cubs also have dollars saved from the payroll this year that can be allocated to next year. The Cubs are spending 83.6 million this year, but for the sake of argument let us round that up to 90 million. Going with the low end of the previous two years payrolls still means that the Cubs will have another 15 million on top of that large pile of money to spend. So the Cubs should have a ton of financial flexibility to pursue both starting pitching and make an addition to a woeful offense.
The list of offensive free agents is not inspiring, and so many have suggested that trades might be the way to go to improve the club. The problem is that in trades one has to give up talent to receive talent. Trading for Giancarlo Stanton is the best possible upgrade the Cubs could make, but that would involve giving up at least either Javier Baez or Kris Bryant, plus a number of other quality pieces.
There are exactly four players on the list of offensive free agents, that are under the age of 30. Those four players are Asdrubal Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Billy Butler, and Colby Rasmus. The Cubs needs are going to be in the outfield, and no big time prospect is likely to be available to make his debut in 2015. Jorge Soler cannot stay on the field, and Almora is showing why the fast track isn't always guaranteed even for plus make up prospects. The only prospects that are close to be an everyday starter are currently infielders that could be moved into the outfield, Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara. Add in the fact that the only outfielders on the Cubs roster under team control next year are Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, and Justin Ruggiano and the need to add from outside the organization becomes a little more clear.
John Arguello in that aforementioned blog lays out the basis for the argument that Colby Rasmus is the player to fit the bill for the Cubs. He is the right age, namely 28 at the start of a potential deal. Rasmus is a plus athlete that is an excellent defensive center fielder. And perhaps the most important fact is that Rasmus bats left handed. Acquiring Rasmus will mean bringing in a plus defender in center with good power from the left side of the plate that can hit in the lower part of the order. Rasmus is not going to completely change the complexion of the lineup, but he will take pitches. He will drive the ball out of the park on a consistent basis which is something the bottom of the Cubs order currently lacks.
Of course there are those that think Rasmus is not our best option. My colleague at Cubs Insider AJ Walsh is not a fan of Colby Rasmus and he lays out his case very simply with the career .314 OBP. Rasmus walks at a career 8.6% rate but the strikeouts are always going to keep the average. Rasmus is going to have a low average which will consistently drag his OBP down as well. I have been a huge fan of OBP in the past, and I have very reluctantly adjusted my view to admit that it is not the single most important offensive statistic. However, as the run scoring environment continues to shift to low scoring is placing more of a focus on SLG. Rasmus provides a solid SLG even with his low AVG due to having a near career .200 ISO.
B.J. Upton is the cautionary tale that have many worried about a Colby Rasmus signing as well. And superficially there are a lot of similarities in the situation with these two gifted defenders in centerfield. Each reached the market at age 28, and each offered similar offensive skill sets. The graph below shows exactly one of the main concerns that people have with Colby Rasmus.
Source: FanGraphs -- B.J. Upton, Colby Rasmus
Digging deeper however, provides an explanation as to why this comparison doesn't actually hold up. The main reason is the power that Rasmus has compared to Upton. Here is the graph that shows a comparison of ISO between Rasmus and Upton.
Source: FanGraphs -- B.J. Upton, Colby Rasmus
So while there might be some similarities, the two players are actually quite different. On top of that Colby Rasmus is not an impact player. He will be inconsistent as he has played at All Star levels and levels below that of even an average starter. The BJ Upton situation actually should help the Cubs as teams will be wary of Rasmus. Also Rasmus has been injured and has been not nearly as productive this season. That might lead to Toronto question whether he is worth extending a qualifying offer to him, but it should mean the Cubs will get a relative good deal. Whereas BJ Upton was coming off a career high in home runs heading to his 5 year 75 million dollar contract.
In short, the Cubs will have money to spend, they need to reinforce the outfield, and Rasmus fits the bill the best. He will not be cheap, but he will provide a valuable player at the bottom of the lineup. He will fill a void that the Cubs have in the lineup, and he will take some of the pressure off of the prospects arriving this year.