If there was ever a precursor to a trade, this was it, via Matthew Leach and Austin Laymance:
Speaking to KSDK TV-5 in St. Louis, La Russa was largely complimentary of Rasmus until the end of the interview. He spoke of Rasmus’ bright future and said that the club is not shopping Rasmus.
At the end, however, La Russa was asked whether Rasmus is listening and responded tartly.
“Well, he’s listening to somebody,” the manager said.
Asked whether Rasmus is listening to the Cardinals’ coaches, he was more direct.
“No, he doesn’t listen to the Cardinal coaches much now, and that’s why he gets in these funks, in my opinion,” La Russa said. “If he would just stay with [basically] what they teach, he would have … but I actually feel concern for him, because he hears it from so many places, he’s got to be confused.”
Approximately 12 hours after that piece hit MLB.com, the Cardinals sent Colby Rasmus packing to Toronto along with relievers Brian Tallet and Trever Miller and minor league stalwart P.J. Walters for a package centered around Edwin Jackson. The Blue Jays also sent relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski and center fielder Corey Patterson to St. Louis to complete the deal.
Only a year ago, Colby Rasmus was one of MLB’s hottest young talents, playing what appeared to be a quality center field, hitting for power, and showing solid on-base skills. Through the first 100 games and change in 2011, it’s not so obvious that Rasmus is the super-stud we thought merely a year ago. Rasmus’s batting line is still well above average, with a 111 wRC+, but the .354 BABIP that drove his tremendous 2010 (.276/.361/.498, 129 wRC+) has returned to earth. Still, a good defensive center fielder producing 10% more offense than the league average is an extremely valuable commodity.
However, since Rasmus posted a +10 UZR in his first MLB season, things haven’t looked so rosy by the defensive metrics. UZR has Rasmus as a -16 center fielder since the beginning of the 2010 season. DRS is not so convinced, rating him as exactly average. Of course, defensive metrics are hardly the end-all be-all of defensive analysis, but at the least, questions have been raised and debate is warranted.
Even with his relatively poor play at the plate and in the field, Rasmus is still on pace for about 2.2 WAR over 600 plate appearances, with a ton of upside and at a relatively low cost. The Cardinals are certainly giving up a major asset in the future, but with the team holding a mere half-game lead in the NL Central division in Albert Pujols‘s final year before free agency, the Cardinals are likely considering the short term a higher priority than the long term. Rasmus is a good player, to be sure, but in the short term, his loss doesn’t necessarily hurt the Cardinals, even before we consider the attitude problems and issues with his father that drove this trade.
The Cardinals will replace Rasmus with Jon Jay for the most part, with Skip Schumaker possibly seeing some time back in his old home of center field as well. The trade might be as much an endorsement of Jay as much as a renouncement of Rasmus for St. Louis; in Jay’s 612 MLB plate appearances, the 26-year-old has accumulated 3.3 WAR behind a .305/.361/.430 line and roughly average outfield defense split between the corners and center field. There are questions with Jay — Will his .352 BABIP hold up? Will his glove play in center field? — but the drop-off between him and Rasmus, at least based on Rasmus’s 2011 performance, shouldn’t be too noticeable.
The addition of Edwin Jackson — a free agent at the end of the season — is a definite improvement over Kyle McClellan in the starting rotation. Jackson’s current ERA of 3.92 is well above his FIP of 3.21, suggesting a possible improvement coming, but at the same time, the 27-year-old’s walk rate and home run rate are well below his career marks in a sample of 121.2 innings. Dave Duncan is famed for his work with starting pitchers, and I doubt anybody would be too surprised if he worked some magic with Jackson. And even if Jackson regresses to his ZiPS projection (4.32 ERA, 4.07 FIP) is still superior to what the Cardinals can expect out of McClellan down the stretch. McClellan doesn’t miss bats and not even Duncan’s magic has managed to keep the ball in the park; his 4.59 FIP is barely better than replacement level.
The additions of Rzepczynski and Dotel should bolster the Cardinals bullpen a bit, and dumping Tallet and Miller (combined -0.8 WAR) shouldn’t hurt. Judging by Tony La Russa’s typical bullpen usage, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rzepcynski utilized as a LOOGY, and Dotel adds another fireballer behind Jason Motte and Fernando Salas. Dotel’s career appears to be living off high strikeout totals opposed to production, though — an ERA of 3.68 is hardly impressive out of a reliever these days, and his FIPs have been above 4.00 for the last two seasons. Rzepczynski could be an interesting long term asset if the Cardinals attempt to turn him into a starter, but his results as a reliever (2.97 ERA, 3.34 FIP) or as a starter in Toronto (4.95 ERA, 4.47 FIP) don’t suggest he’d improve much as a starter with the Cardinals. He is only 25 though, and with work the Cardinals could find an asset in Rzepcynski.
All-in-all, as long as Tony La Russa doesn’t start doling out starts in center field to Corey Patterson (and really, who knows with that), the Cardinals shouldn’t be any worse off for 2011 with this trade, and if Edwin Jackson’s results start to line up with his peripherals from this season, they could improve. Long-term, with Jackson departing after the season and Colby Rasmus under team control for the next three years, the Cardinals appear to take a hit, but by design. As the aforementioned story presented, the Cardinals and Colby Rasmus just didn’t seem to be able to reconcile their differences — with both parties likely at fault — and at some point, GM John Mozeliak had to cut his losses. The Cardinals managed to do so without weakening themselves noticeably in the short run, and with the lack of leverage given Rasmus’s situation, that’s probably as well as the Cardinals could do.