The modus operandi for third-year GM Alex Anthopoulos comes in identifying and signing to multi-year contracts those core players the club feels are essential to winning. The next target player is Colby Rasmus.
The criteria for Anthopoulos are that players be young, talented and arbitration-eligible. The Jays want maximum cost certainty into the future with their payroll, buying out the final few years of arbitration and, importantly, at least the first year of free agency, preferably with a club option or two added on. He did that with Yunel Escobar, Brandon Morrow, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Ricky Romero. An exception was Edwin Encarnacion, who was slated to become a free agent but has played himself into being a future core player in the heart of the batting order.
The Jays now have 13 players under contract for 2013, plus five others eligible for arbitration, including Rasmus. The 26-year-old centre fielder will end the season with exactly four years of major-league service, meaning he can become a free agent at the end of 2014. That is around the time Anthopoulos prefers to begin negotiations if a player is deemed core. The Jays value Rasmus.
“Yes, right now, for sure,” manager John Farrell said, when asked if Rasmus was key to the Jays’ future. “He’s got a chance to be an RBI guy. He’s got a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark. When you look at his skills and his tools, he’s got as much talent as anybody in this league.
At some point, whether it’s September or early in the off-season, the Jays appear to be willing to offer Rasmus that platform to perform — the room to build his skills and find consistency without the pressure of playing for his next contract. If it’s the case, Rasmus himself remains blissfully unaware.
“They just tell me to go about my business,” Rasmus said. “I’m just playing, not thinking about none of that. I hadn’t really put a whole lot of thought to it, but I’d definitely like to be here. I like the guys. I like our team. I like our chances, but as far as that other stuff, I don’t know the numbers or anything like that. I’m not good with that kind of stuff.”
Rasmus has come a long way. When he was acquired from the Cardinals last July, the kid from Phenix City, Ala., seemed lost and alone in the Jays’ clubhouse. St. Louis was still home; Toronto was another country. He hit .173 with a .517 OPS and had his arch-nemesis, Cards manager Tony La Russa gloating all the way to the World Series about the wool they had pulled over the Jays’ eyes.
This season, he has gone back to the batting stance that he used in high school to earn him the 28th overall selection in the June 2005 draft. Rasmus has 22 home runs, 47 extra-base hits, 71 RBIs and an OPS over .700. Yes, he has room to grow, but he’s happy and comfortable.
“No doubt about it,” Rasmus said of his need to improve. “Like I said, I’ve still got a lot to learn. You’re always learning stuff in this game. With the injuries we’ve had, that might not have helped to have all those, too. We didn’t have quite the firepower. But, yeah, I love it here. I love being here. I love the atmosphere and I think I’ve been treated well. I think it’s a good spot for me to be.”
What comes shining through in any conversation with Rasmus is that baseball is still a little boy’s game to him. He refuses to let the business aspects of contracts and such creep into his mind. In fact, it’s likely why any contract extension can easily wait until the season is done.
“I play better when I do think it’s a game and I’m 12 years old again, trying to run balls down and get hits and help this team win,” Rasmus said. “I don’t look at it from the business side because I never looked at it that way growing up and that side never made sense to me. So for me to do that is not helpful for my baseball play. I want to do what’s going to help me to help this team.”
The 13 players signed for next year have a financial commitment of $ 64.9 million from the Jays. The arbitration-eligible group for 2013 includes Rasmus, J.A. Happ, Brett Cecil, Aaron Laffey and Jesse Litsch. Rasmus should be the first to be removed from that list.