Outfielder Colby Rasmus talks to the media after getting signed by Orioles. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — When Colby Rasmus abruptly left the Tampa Bay Rays last July to spend more time with his family, the veteran outfielder didn’t know whether he’d have the opportunity — or the desire — to return to the majors in 2018.
Rasmus’ first half last year was slowed by lingering hip problems that limited him to just 37 appearances in Tampa Bay’s first 90 games before he was placed on the restricted list and never returned. Rasmus, 31, said he needed to be with his family back home in Alabama. His wife, Megan, was pregnant with the couple’s third child.
“I’ve played a lot of baseball in my day,” said Rasmus, who had previously played for three other teams over a nine-year career and even as a kid starred on a Little League team that won the U.S championship in 1999. “I’ve played a lot of baseball since I was a little bitty and I’ve got three kids. My wife was pregnant last year, so a lot was going on. I had a lot going on at the house. Just felt that I needed a little break.
“As a big league ballplayer, professional baseball player, baseball is life. You don’t really have much off time. As soon as the season is over with, you’re getting back in the weight room and working out. And I worked out from the time I started working out at 8 or 9 years old to play in the big leagues, and I just kind of hit a point to where I was like, ‘Man, I need to take a little break and enjoy some time with my family.’ My 8-year-old girl was in school, just had a boy who was 10 weeks old, so being able to spend time with them and keeping my wife feeling good through her pregnancy was important to me.”
Speculation was that Rasmus would retire, especially after it appeared he was still having problems with his hip after sports hernia surgery before last season. But once Rasmus started working out in the offseason, his confidence grew that he could return. His midseason departure didn’t sit well as a potential final chapter of his career. He wanted to write a better ending, and once he felt well enough that he was confident he could endure the grind of an entire season, he aimed for a comeback.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, so I got back to working out and mentally I feel good,” Rasmus said. “I feel like I still have a little bit left to give to the game and show the game some respect and go out in a good way.
“I wanted to make sure that I was going to come back and be able to finish out the season and be able to play some good baseball. I wanted to go out on a good note. Thankfully here, I think this will be a good fit for me.”
The Orioles were looking for a left-handed-hitting outfielder offseason, and had faith they’d land one during spring training as players looked to find homes. Rasmus had a personal history with Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who visited Rasmus’ home in Phenix City, Ala., before the 2015 season when Rasmus was a free agent. Rasmus eventually signed with the Houston Astros, but Showalter left a lasting impression, and the outfielder said he connected with the manager’s “old-school” mentality.
“I thought we vibed together pretty well in the way he thinks and the way he operates,” Rasmus said. “I grew up in a household that was kind of that way. My dad was pretty rough, so that doesn’t bother me. It kind of helps me. So, the meeting we had was good. It didn’t work out, but now here I am and hopefully it will be a good time.”
When Rasmus was healthy last season, he was good, hitting nine homers and posting an .896 OPS over 37 games with the Rays. He’s mainly a left-handed platoon hitter, but he was well on his was to his fifth career 20-homer season. Even in limited playing time, he was good for 1.2 wins above a replacement-level player, according to Baseball Reference, and still showed an above-average glove, which was important to the Orioles as they looked to improve their defensive range in the outfield.
Orioles third baseman Tim Beckham played with Rasmus in Tampa Bay last season, and lauded him as a good teammate.
“He’s a grinder. … I think he’ll fit in well. I think he’s going to be a good addition to the club,” Beckham said. “He’s got a good arm in the outfield, he hits homers, drives in runs and I think he’s a good addition. … I was pretty pumped up [when I heard]. I hit behind him a good amount last year and we’d switch up and he’d hit behind me. We had some fun in Tampa, and it’s going to carry over here. It’s still the same game, the game we love to play. He’s a baseball player.”
Last week, the Orioles brain trust gathered to discuss left-handed-hitting outfielders who could be signed to minor league deals. Rasmus’ name was atop the list, because not only can he provide power from the left side — Chris Davis was previously the sole left-handed hitter in the Orioles’ projected starting lineup — but he can also hold his own defensively.
“It was pretty quick as you can see,” Rasmus said. “As you can see, it came together a little late. … I wasn’t sure really what was going to happen. I was just sitting at home kind of waiting and my agent called and here we are.”
The only real obstacle was Rasmus’ health, particularly his hip. The team ran him through two MRIs on Wednesday before arriving at a deal. Ultimately a minor league deal offered little risk and potentially a huge reward, but Showalter said that the club’s medical review of Rasmus was encouraging.
“The big thing with him is that his hip is healthy for the first time,” Showalter said. “He had that surgery. … The people who were involved in the physical were really happy with where that was. He had some lower back issues [before], too. I think that’s all [in the past]. I think he’s in [the best] physical place [he’s been in] a long time.”
“I feel good,” Rasmus said. “I had my MRIs and X-rays yesterday and everything was good. I feel good. Coming off the surgery last year I felt good. I felt like I was playing good baseball, so I hope to carry that over. I’m very thankful that they reached out to me, for sure. I’m happy to be here and hopefully I can pay that back in full by playing good baseball. That’s my goal.”