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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #17: Not trading Colby Rasmus

The St. Louis Cardinals’ second-year outfielder went through some bumps and bruises on and off the field.

Since having been drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft out of high school, outfielder Colby Rasmus was the pride of the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. The now-24-year-old was twice the organization’s minor league Player of the Year and was our top-ranked prospect in the system for four years running.

In his 2009 major league debut season, Rasmus joined a post-Jim Edmonds outfield group that still included veterans Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick, all of whom have since departed via trade or free agency. Rasmus competed most directly for playing time with long-time Cardinal and fan-favorite Ankiel, who struggled with injuries for much of the season.

Rasmus earned the team’s Rookie of the Year Award after ranking among first-year National League leaders in home runs (16) and RBI (52) and leading all first-year players in games played (147). Rasmus was just the sixth Cardinals rookie since 1954 to start 100 or more games in centerfield and was the team’s youngest opening day starter since Albert Pujols in 2001. He was also one of the club’s offensive leaders in their three-game post-season collapse.

In 2010, Rasmus reported to camp as the club’s clear starter in center. Once the season began, Rasmus moved from the second to the fifth spot in the batting order following David Freese’s injury. He missed time in July due to a hamstring injury and in August with a calf strain which created additional opportunity for rookie Jon Jay.

Rasmus had a good 2010 season. The centerfielder hit 23 home runs and posted an .859 OPS but needs to progress in other areas. For example, he fanned 148 times in 464 at-bats, just missing the “top” ten in the NL in that unenviable category. His defense was spotty and needs to improve with less mobile fielders set to flank him in 2011. Like the Cardinals offense overall, Rasmus lacked consistency in 2010 and as such, did not always start.

On September 5th, the Post-Dispatch summarized off-field questions concerning Rasmus while breaking some surprising news:

“The La Russa-Rasmus relationship remains a source of intrigue. During spring training Rasmus made clear the issues he confronted as a rookie. He and his father, Tony, then began a series of July hitting tutorials at a county high school that annoyed the manager. Club sources insist that Rasmus’ frustrations with La Russa led him to request a trade earlier this year and that his lengthy absence last month due to a right calf strain also resurrected concerns. The organization has long considered Rasmus untouchable in trade talks. Few dispute his talents and potential but there remains a question of toughness and willingness to accept criticism. There are those who share the same clubhouse who wonder if La Russa has “lost” Rasmus, or if Rasmus has permanently withdrawn from the taskmaster.”

In a subsequent report, the paper noted the trade request occurred on July 24 and mentioned a threat by the manager to return the player to Triple-A. La Russa confirmed the trade request and was quoted as saying Rasmus had asked out during his rookie season, as well. General Manager John Mozeliak said he was not approached about a trade and suggested they were heat of the battle discussions, the type that are common in every professional sports organization but often not reported externally.

In a widely-quoted reaction, Pujols responded sharply.

“If he doesn’t want to be here next year, we need to figure out a way to get him out of here and find somebody that wants to be here and play.”

A number of discussions occurred between the outfielder and Pujols, the manager, the general manager and likely others that reportedly led to a greater understanding of concerns from all sides. After previously having sat periodically as La Russa tinkered with his lineup, Rasmus played more regularly for the club during the final month.

At the time of the trade news, the Cardinals still fostered playoff hopes but were unable to mount a September charge to unseat Cincinnati in the Central Division or claim a Wild Card berth.

The flap generated considerable ongoing attention nationally, with some wondering if the young star and his manager could coexist. From this, trade speculation exploded across the baseball world.

Rumors of different clubs making a run at acquiring Rasmus ebbed and flowed through the remainder of the season and well into the fall, despite the club taking an on-the-record stance that Rasmus was not available. Among teams mentioned in mainstream media reports were Atlanta, Toronto, Arizona and the Chicago White Sox.

News of Rasmus selling his St. Louis area home in November was misinterpreted by some as a trade signal before it became clear that he was simply purchasing another that allowed room for his own batting cages.

With four more seasons before being eligible for free agency, Rasmus represents one of the most valuable commodities for the Cardinals, and any MLB organization – a cost-controlled player at a premium position whose productivity far outweighs his salary.

The reason he is so valuable is precisely the reason he has not and most likely will not be traded.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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