Colby Rasmus headed into his third season with the St. Louis Cardinals holding down a full-time job in centerfield but also still carrying the expectations that came with being a former first-round draft pick and a three-time organizational Minor League Player of the Year. He also had supposedly put past skirmishes with manager Tony La Russa behind him.
As 2011 unfolded, Rasmus’ highs seemed higher but his lows also appeared to be lower and more prolonged. For example, in the early going, the then-24-year-old endured a 116 at-bat streak without a long ball. The left-handed hitter batted .253 in May, fell to .213 in June and was .147 (5-for-34) in July when La Russa unloaded on the 10th.
The frustrated manager made it clear in an interview on KMOX Radio that his hitting coaches should not be held responsible for Rasmus’ troubles at the plate, suggesting the player’s outside assistance should be accountable. One of the final shots had been fired in a stormy relationship that began with Rasmus being taken 28th overall in the 2005 draft.
Rasmus’ inconsistency also led to highs. He often flashed evidence of his talent, almost up until the end of his time with St. Louis. For example, Rasmus drove in six runs with a grand slam and a triple against the Giants on July 2. It tied for the third-best RBI game in the entire National League in 2011.
Over the previous three weeks, the centerfielder had a five-walk contest and another outing in which he had four hits, including a pair of triples. Yet in a perfect illustration of the overall slide, during the same time, Rasmus went hitless in 12 of 16 games as his batting average dropped more than 30 points.
He also seemed to have problems defensively, appearing tentative when running down or judging balls that were near the wall. His throwing was inconsistent at best, leading to calls from some for more playing time for Jon Jay.
On July 27, the Cardinals made a bold move, sending Rasmus to Toronto in an eight-player trade in which St. Louis was widely criticized by baseball observers. Many felt the Blue Jays scored a major coup, landing a blue-chip talent for spare parts.
The deal brought the Cardinals three pitchers, starter Edwin Jackson and relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, plus outfielder Corey Patterson along with cash. Along with Rasmus, relievers Brian Tallet and Trever Miller plus pitcher P.J. Walters headed north.
Most of those ‘parts’ seemed to be just what the Cardinals engine needed. The move helped shore up the Cardinals’ rotation and bullpen with the additional benefit of moving out a player who could apparently not coexist with La Russa. Some might argue as to which were the primary and secondary motivations of the trade.
The deal certainly proved to be a good move for St. Louis in the short term, as all three acquired pitchers contributed to St. Louis’ final-month playoff push and eventual World Championship.
Jackson moved into the rotation and pitched well in place of struggling Kyle McClellan, who had gone winless for more than two months. Rzepczynski took over as the primary bullpen lefty, a role he is expected to reprise in 2012. Dotel became a valuable set up man. Though Patterson was a bust, rookie Adron Chambers proved ready to step into the void.
Rasmus did not immediately improve his hitting after the trade. None of the three pitchers received by the Jays were still employed by their new organization by the end of the year, leaving the outfielder as Toronto’s remaining take from the deal.
On the other side, of the four then-new Cardinals, only Rzepczynski is still with St. Louis, the others becoming free agents. La Russa retired after the World Series. There are future considerations from the trade, as well. The Cards will receive a compensatory draft pick once Jackson signs elsewhere for 2012. They also picked up a draft choice for the loss of Dotel, who will pitch for Detroit next season.
Most importantly, flags fly forever. Many believe this trade was a key turning point in the eventual World Champions’ march to the top.