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Rasmus learning to take things in stride

Outfielder feels club will bounce back, not concerned about being free agent

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The television in the Blue Jays' clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium was tuned to MLB Network on Monday morning, and much of the news had a common theme.

The Yankees had signed outfielder Brett Gardner to a big new contract. Here's Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, talking about his big new contract. There are reports that the Angels are talking to Mike Trout about a big new contract.

Not far away is the locker assigned to Blue Jays centre fielder Colby Rasmus. He does not have a big new contract, at least not yet. Coming off his best Major League year, Rasmus is eligible to be a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. Some players welcome that challenge. Some don't.

How Rasmus responds isn't an idle question for a Blue Jays team hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season. He was one of the few bright spots for Toronto in 2013. In Rasmus' three years with the Blue Jays, his OPS has risen from .517 to .689 to .840. His 4.6 WAR ranked sixth among Major League center fielders. Rasmus is only 27 years old.

"He's still a young kid," said manager John Gibbons. "He's got as much talent as anybody. He's still learning the game. He's still learning the pitchers. He's still really finding out who he is. Each year, he keeps getting better and better. When you've got that kind of talent, who knows how good you can be?"

That's a question people have been asking about Rasmus since the Cardinals selected him in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Rasmus has said in the past that no matter what he did in St. Louis that he couldn't meet the expectations. Being traded to the Blue Jays seemed to be best for all concerned. But unless Toronto moves to extend Rasmus' contract before the end of the season -- and there have been no indications that's under consideration -- he may have to make an interesting decision next winter whether to stay in a place where he's had success or move on for a bigger payday.

Whatever the answer ultimately is, Gibbons doesn't expect the uncertainty to bother Rasmus.

"I'm not in the contract business," said Gibbons. "I don't sign them, but it's always on guy's minds. It's a big year when you hit that. It shows you've been in the game awhile. You have to be pretty good to hang around that long. Some guys it may affect differently. With him, I don't see him focusing a lot on that, to be honest with you."

That's the plan, anyway.

"I'm just looking forward to getting to play another year. I'm not trying to put added pressure on myself like I've got to do better or whatever," Rasmus said. "I just want to put all that stuff out of my mind and put all the stuff I've learned to good use and go from there."

And the main lesson, Rasmus said, is to take things in stride.

"One of the biggest things, probably, is just that I am in the big leagues and I worked hard to get here -- and to enjoy it," said Rasmus. "Sometimes you get caught up in the numbers and trying to be so good and all that stuff. So I just want to enjoy being here."

Coincidentally, Rasmus believes the same holds true for the Blue Jays as a team. Asked what he and his teammates have to do to rebound from their last-place finish in the rigorous American League East, he shrugged.

"Bottom line is we've just got to go out there and play better," said Rasmus. "We've got some good players. But there are good players on every team. So we've just got to put it together, go out there and relax, and play and have fun. Especially with the teams we're playing against.

"Because when we play against the Yankees, Red Sox, Tampa Bay, they're not putting too much pressure on themselves, and it seems like we're always grinding against them. To me, if we just relax, see the ball, hit the ball and do all the things we know how to do as baseball players, we'll be all right."

The Blue Jays churned their roster going into last season. Rasmus hopes that being together for a season could help.

"I think that's possible," Rasmus said. "Last year, there were a bunch of new faces, and I was fairly new myself. I would think that might help a little as far as the chemistry and everybody knowing where they fit in and how to treat certain guys. But we'll see. It's hard to tell, because, like I said, we've got to face a bunch of real good teams. We've just got to let it hang out and play."

Which is exactly what Rasmus plans to do. If he does, free agency and all that goes with it will take care of itself.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for

Toronto Blue Jays, Colby Rasmus