Recently, I have read a number of blogs and comments from Twitter users, worried that the recent contract extension for Tony La Russa means that the Cardinals front office is going to do something silly, like trade away Colby Rasmus. To all of you nice scribes and tweeps, I have but one word to offer
The executive management team is not going to do anything stupid.
True, there hasn’t been a particularly good track record of late. Beginning with the Mark Mulder trade, it seems that we have been mostly on the short end of the deal stick, but that might not be altogether fair. Mulder did give us some great games before going down with a career ending (err, interrupting) injury. Same for Mark De Rosa – OK, that one was a complete and total fleecing of the minor league system. At least the Giants didn’t lose any pitching prospects for De Rosa, just a big wad of cash.
So, is Colby Rasmus up for sale ? You betcha. Nobody is totally off the market, although a few contracts (Holliday, Lohse – well, just because we might not want to admit it doesn’t make it untrue) might make deals unrealistic. And a few have such value (Pujols, Molina, Wainwright, most of the bullpen, and yes – Rasmus) that a trade seems unlikely.
But if there was such a deal for Rasmus, what would it look like, and how might it all play out ? Oh, that sounds like a trip through Cardinals history – now we’re talkin’ !!!!!
The players closest to the Rasmus situation would be JD Drew, Andy van Slyke, Lance Johnson and Bobby Tolan.
Not so much …..
Tolan was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, along with a promising young reliever (Wayne Granger), for veteran outfielder Vada Pinson after the end of the 1968 season. The trade was made, not so much because Tolan (or Granger for that matter) had fallen out of favor, but the Cardinals needed a dependable outfielder to replace the retiring Roger Maris. On paper, Pinson was the perfect choice. When Pinson got off to a hot start in 1969, everybody was happy. Until May, when injuries limited his playing time, and then the wear and tear from his days in Cincinnati became apparent as we saw a big drop in his production. The former Reds star would only spend one season in St. Louis.
There is one extra piece of intrigue that disqualifies this particular trade. The Cincinnati General Manager making this deal was Bob Howsam. He was previously the General Manager of the Cardinals, and in that capacity, he drafted Tolan. He knew what he was getting and giving up in the deal. Insider information, to be sure.
Lance Johnson was the next Vince Coleman, but with a huge batting average – and he didn’t strike out! He was a future star, and everybody that saw him play the game knew it. Like Tolan, he was traded right after the Cardinals lost in the World Series. This time it was 1987. The speedster was sent to Chicago (White Sox) along with left-hander Rick Horton for Jose DeLeon. The Cardinals had been looking for an ace right hander ever since Joaquin Andujar was shipped off to the Oakland Athletics after the 1985 World Series. Injuries and inconsistency from Danny Cox meant the Cardinals had to go elsewhere, and elsewhere turned out to be the south side of Chicago. Again, on paper, this seemed like an ideal arrangement. With Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Tom Brunansky and Curt Ford in the outfield, Johnson became expendable, and the trade was made. In retrospect, the Cardinals would have been better off holding onto Tommy Herr and letting Bruno play in Minnesota and keeping Johnson. DeLeon was an enigma of a hurler – unbelievable stuff for 6 innings and then nothing but batting practice.
Looking back at this deal, you really have to wonder why it was made. Johnson had not been in St. Louis long enough to fall into or out of favor. He seemed like the perfect Whitey Herzog player – high batting average, good defense and could run like the wind. We just didn’t keep him around long enough to find out. A fleecing by the White Sox – most certainly. Useful for a Rasmus deal comparison, not so much.
Andy van Slyke. Now we’re talking. Van Slyke was a walking defensive highlight reel. When he played with Willie McGee and Vince Coleman, it took a scorching line drive to get down between the outfielders. Pop-ups just over the right side of the infield were never a problem – van Slyke appeared out of nowhere to make some of the most unbelievable catches.
But…… there’s always a but. van Slyke could not hit left handed pitching. Sound familiar ???? I thought so.
Not that van Slyke didn’t work hard on it, by all accounts he did. And he became increasingly frustrated when Whitey Herzog platooned him with Tito Landrum for most of the 1985 season. When Willie McGee missed almost all of August 1986 with an injury, van Slyke started playing every day. For that month he hit a cool .354/.419/.631 for an amazing Pujols-like OPS of 1.050. But Herzog refused to budge on the right field platoon situation. When the 1987 season started, the Cardinals were in dire need of a catcher and were able to put together a deal with Pittsburgh, sending the frustrated van Slyke for Tony Pena.
How did that deal work out ? Perhaps not so well personally for Pena, but as an organization, the Cardinals won another National League Pennant and came within 15 outs of winning another World Series title. Yeah, I’d say that deal worked out nicely.
JD Drew. Now there’s a name that will strike fear throughout all of Cardinals nation. All the more fascinating since his brother Stephen’s name keeps coming up in speculation about off-season upgrades to the Redbirds infield. JD is another thing altogether. A fantastically talented player, Drew drew attention (that’s really hard to say) when the Cardinals drafted and signed him out of the Independent Northern League a year after the Philadelphia Phillies first drafted him. He received a huge contract and blew through the minor leagues. Critics of Drew suggest that the big contract gave him a sense of entitlement and he lacked the passion of most of the players around him (oh boy, does this sound familiar). Injuries started mounting, and eventually the Cardinals had enough. A deal was made and Drew was sent to the Braves along with catcher/outfielder Eli Marrero for pitchers Ray King, Jason Marquis and a tall prospect by the name of Adam Wainwright.
Do I even need to ask how this one worked out ? How about if we just ask Carlos “Weak Knee” Beltran or Brandon Inge. Even before that, Jason Marquis went 15-7 for another World Series bound Cardinals team in 2004, and Ray King was about as good an arm out of the bullpen as the Cardinals had seen in a long time. This deal was worth not one, but two trips to the World Series.
A Bright Future
It doesn’t matter if you are pro or anti-Rasmus. Both sides have to admit that he is a genuine talent, and a valuable part of the franchise. Knowing that, if (and that remains an enormous IF) the Cardinals do trade the young outfielder, history shows that they will get something valuable in return. The last two times a player like Rasmus has been involved, the Cardinals ended up in the Fall Classic. If Rasmus is traded, it will be for another impact player, and I would have every expectation for the Cardinals to face the American League champion in the fall.