Sarasota, Fla. — With the number of left-handed-hitting outfielders available on the free-agent market dwindling, the Orioles have turned their focus to a potential deal with veteran outfielder Colby Rasmus, according to an industry source.
The club had interest in Rasmus throughout the offseason, but there was question whether the 31-year-old wanted to play this year after spending the second half of last season on the restricted list because he decided he wanted to “step away from baseball.” Now interest appears mutual.
The Orioles have pursued Rasmus in the past, with Orioles manager Buck Showalter visiting his home in Alabama when he was a free agent before the 2015 season. Rasmus signed with the Houston Astros instead and played there for two seasons before signing with the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2017.
Before going on the restricted list July 13, Rasmus landed on the disabled list June 23 with left hip tendinitis. He also opened last season on the DL while recovering from hip surgery. Still, Rasmus was productive last season when healthy, hitting nine homers and posting an .896 OPS in 23 games with the Rays.
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Before last season, Rasmus averaged 21 homers a year over a five-year span from 2012 to 2016 while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays and Astros.
With first baseman Chris Davis the only left-handed hitter in the projected starting lineup, the Orioles this week signed lefty-hitting outfielder Alex Presley to a minor league deal to compete with former Oakland Athletics outfielder Jaycob Brugman for an Opening Day roster spot. But the Orioles would like to add yet another lefty bat, especially if they can get one on a low-risk minor league deal.
Rasmus would compete for a platoon spot against right-handed pitching — he had a .915 OPS against right-handers last season — in right field.
The list of left-handed hitters still available on the free-agent market also includes switch-hitter Melky Cabrera, Jon Jay, Carlos González, Michael Saunders and Andre Ethier.
In searching for an outfielder, the Orioles want to place added value on defense, and Rasmus can play all three outfield positions and has put up solid defensive numbers in the past. He came up as a center fielder, but has made a successful transition to the corner spot, spending most of his time in left.
In 31 games (26 starts) last season, Rasmus had four defense runs saved. In 2016, he had 20 defensive runs saved in 119 games.
The Orioles would risk little by signing Rasmus to a minor league deal, especially if he returns healthy after not playing in games for six months. If it becomes clear that Rasmus hasn’t shaken his injury, the Orioles could easily cut ties with him. He earned $5 million last year with the Rays.