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Free-spirited Colby Rasmus bringing a strong personality to Rays

Houston Astros left fielder Colby Rasmus (28) celebrates with first baseman Chris Carter (23) following his solo home run in the second inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 10, 2015.
Houston Astros left fielder Colby Rasmus (28) celebrates with first baseman Chris Carter (23) following his solo home run in the second inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 10, 2015.
Published Jan. 31, 2017

The Rays signed Colby Rasmus based on his multidimensional skills, to hit the ball out of the park with his left-handed swing and to keep it from hitting the ground while gliding around all three positions in the outfield.

"A very attractive combination for us," Rays senior vice president Chaim Bloom said.

But the Rays will be getting something else they can use: a guy who plays with high energy and intensity, describing his style as something we will politely translate to "all" out; and who is something of a free spirit and will say what's on his mind.

For example, asked Monday on his introductory conference call about not getting enough credit for his defense, finishing as a runner-up for the AL Gold Glove in left, Rasmus raised the question of bias resulting from a years-old conflict with his former Cardinals manager.

"You know how the game is," Rasmus said. "In the show, they don't necessarily like long hair and the redneck folks. That's just the way it goes. My good old friend Tony La Russa, he has a lot of pull in the game, so you never know. I just try to play the game how I play it. I play hard. I play the game kind of (all) out, and rough, so I've hurt myself along the way. When it comes to injuries, they set you back for awards like that. …

"The way I play it, some people don't like that. I think the fans like it a little more. The folks up top may not like it quite as much, the sabermetric guys, things like that, catching balls out of my range, or however they do it. I try to get myself in the best position to try to get us on and off the field as quick as possible. That's my goal."

Coming off a 94-loss season, the Rays need a lot of help. Getting a player with Rasmus' upside at a bargain rate— $5 million salary, with $2 million more in plate-appearance incentives — because he had a down year in Houston, due primarily to medical issues that required three surgeries (ear cyst, hip, sports hernias), was reason enough to make the move.

And if he casts off a few sparks along the way, that's all right, too.

"We like individuals here," Bloom said. "We've always strived to have a clubhouse where everybody can be themselves. That's one of the things that excited us — we know Colby brings a lot of energy and brings a lot of himself to everywhere he goes. And we're excited to add that in our mix."

Rasmus, 30, signed with the Rays for several reasons — the chance to be close to his Phenix City, Ala., home, to return to the AL East and, perhaps most of all, to reunite with hitting coach Chad Mottola, for whom he had his best year in 2013 with Toronto. "I dig the way he goes about his business," Rasmus said. "Having somebody that can dive off the beaten path helps me."

Health is the biggest hurdle for Rasmus in bouncing back from his "rough" 2016 (.206, 15 homers, 54 RBIs, .641 OPS, though with the strong defense). The ear issue resulted in headaches and vertigo that required August surgery; the hip (bone spur, labrum tear) and sports hernias (two, and an adductor muscle tear) ended his season a few weeks early and led to more surgery in October. "Just a crazy year," he said.

Though cleared for running and baseball activities, Rasmus will be behind in spring training, Bloom saying the Rays "are optimistic" he'll be ready for the April 2 opener. Playing on the Trop turf may also require some initial cautious handling.

"It's all good," Rasmus said. "I'm going to try to get myself ready to suit up and get ready to ball out this year."

NOTES: To make room for Rasmus on the 40-man roster, the Rays released outfielder Jason Coats, who tore a ligament in his elbow the day he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox and needs Tommy John surgery. … Add Texas' Jurickson Profar to the long list of hitters the Rays have looked into acquiring.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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