Colby Rasmus Deal Epitomizes Toronto Blue Jays' 2014 Offseason Strategy

Mike DenrocheContributor IIIJanuary 24, 2014

Colby Rasmus was a key player for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 yet wasn't offered a multi-year contract.
Colby Rasmus was a key player for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 yet wasn't offered a multi-year contract.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It's been a quiet offseason so far in Toronto, which is a stark contrast to the flurry of deals Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made last winter.

Anthopoulos bet the farm in 2012—both literally and figurativelyon a handful of veterans with the goal of soaring to the top of the AL East and ending the franchise's 20-year playoff drought.

The blockbuster trades made with the Marlins and Mets, along with the signing of sluggish slugger Melky Cabrera made the Jays instant contenders, at least on paper. Believe it or not, Vegas even had the Jays as World Series favorites at one point.

But it all fell apart so fast.

The team got off to a slow start, and to make matters worse, they lost newly acquired Jose Reyes to a brutal ankle injury just two weeks into the season.

By the end of May, the Jays already found themselves nine games below .500 and 9.5 games behind the division lead. After a number of disappointing individual performances and injuries to key players during the season, the Jays ultimately finished the season with a record of 74-88, 23 games behind the division-winning Red Sox.

After millions of dollars spent and a handful of prospects sent packing, the team was no closer to the playoffs. The 2013 season was an unmitigated disaster for the Jays.

The last time a Blue Jays general manager attempted to improve the roster in one fell swoop was in the winter of 2006, when former GM J.P. Ricciardi was green-lighted by ownership to make a splash. Ricciardi promptly signed closer B.J. Ryan and starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, while also trading to acquire third baseman Troy Glaus and first baseman Lyle Overbay.

Like last year's Jays, the 2006 team failed to make the playoffs.

Ricciardi stood pat the following season; his only notable moves were signing designated hitter Frank Thomas and infamously inking his then 28-year-old all-star center fielder, Vernon Wells, to a gaudy 7-year contract extension worth $126 million.

The Jays never made the playoffs during Ricciardi's tenure, and he was fired in 2009.

Arguably Ricciardi’s biggest mistake was failing to continuously improve the team after his initial splurge in 2006.

So far this offseason, Anthopoulos appears to be making that same mistake. While there have been reports speculating the Jays' interest in acquiring the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, Anthopoulos has yet to pull the trigger on any deals to address the team's abysmal starting pitching from last season.

The acquisition of Dioner Navarro as J.P. Arencibia's replacement behind the plate is the only change to their exactly average lineup.

Anthopoulos has also decided against signing center fielder Colby Rasmus to a multi-year contract. Instead, Rasmus was offered (and ultimately accepted) a modest one-year, $7 million deal that reeks of conservatism and indecision on the part of Anthopoulos—a far cry from the bold moves he made just a year ago.

Rasmus was one of the lone bright spots for the Jays last season, ranking sixth in the majors amongst center fielders (who had at least 400 plate appearances) with 4.8 wins above replacement.

The lack of commitment likely stems from the fact that Rasmus is a difficult player to projectHis 2010 and 2013 seasons were excellent, yet his 2011 and 2012 seasons were barely above replacement level.

Regardless, the lack of a multi-year deal puts the Jays in a tough spot, as this was Rasmus's last year of arbitration eligibility. If Rasmus is able to replicate or surpass his 2013 output, the Jays will find themselves competing with 29 other teams to retain the services of one of the league’s better center fielders.

Anthopoulos’ policy of not handing out deals longer than five years could eliminate the Jays from competing in a potential bidding war.

The arguments against offering Rasmus a multi-year pact revolve around the possibility of him regressing back to his 2011-12 output next season. While that possibility certainly exists, it doesn't change the fact that Rasmus could be seeking a change of scenery next season, especially if 2014 is a disappointing year for him and the team. The Jays would then be forced to fill a void at a pivotal position, and the candidates for potential replacements are far from ideal.

The organization may still have high expectations for outfield prospect Anthony Gose as their center fielder of the future, but there's no guarantee Gose will be ready to be an everyday major leaguer by 2015.

Would it have mattered, though, if Rasmus ended up being overpaid next year?

After all, Major League Baseball is an uncapped league, meaning individual teams set their own spending limit. If the Jays’ ownership OK'd last year’s influx of salary expenses, signing a near five-win player who's in the prime of his career to a multi-year deal seems like a move worth making.

Look no further than the Los Angeles Dodgerssigning of Clayton Kershaw last week as a precedent for a win-now team locking up an arbitration-eligible player for the long term. This way, they'll avoid losing him in free agency.

Rasmus lacks Kershaw’s track record, of course, but the same logic applies.

For a team that is built to win now, a wait-and-see approach to the offseason will leave them in the dust of their AL East competitors. While the Yankees spend $155 million on Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays are concerned about overpaying their most valuable player from a year ago.

There's something wrong with that.