I don’t usually write about teams that I am a fan of-admittedly, that’s partly because my teams aren’t always doing something interesting, so it’s easier to write about the current events. But it does also help keep my writing mostly unbiased. However, with both MLB.com and ESPN.com are reporting that Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus has had various issues as of late, ranging from unhappiness to an alleged rift with manager Tony La Russa, I feel that I need to weigh in. I don’t claim to know anything more than what is said in the articles on the two aforementioned websites. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t put my two cents in on the matter.
Both stories seem to agree on the basic points: Colby Rasmus has had some problems adjusting to the Major Leagues, and he has denied rumors that he has requested a trade. Also, both mention what Albert Pujols has to say on the matter and mentioned Rasmus’s supposedly strained relationship with St. Louis skipper La Russa.
First, I’ll mention Pujols’ thoughts on the subject; they seem to me to be addressing the reports that Rasmus requested a trade, rather than his teammate himself. This is an important distinction, as it means that Pujols’ presence in the article is more than likely meant to draw attention to the article, rather than provide any confirmation to the story. Rasmus has denied that he requested a trade, and I have no problem accepting that. The story may well be a rumor taken to press to attract attention. That sort of thing happens.
I also don’t mind if he has had problems adjusting to being in the Majors. Rasmus isn’t even a month over 24; not everyone can be a Jason Heyward, who seems to have been born specifically for the purpose of playing baseball professionally. If he takes a little longer than some players, I’m fine.
No, the part of this story that worries me the most is the story of La Russa and Rasmus having issues getting along. If this is the case, then I think that the Cardinals may have to let La Russa walk this winter.
It isn’t easy to say that, after all of the success that he’s brought to the organization. But there are several reasons that it would need to be done. La Russa isn’t exactly the easiest manager to get along with. He’s run several players out of town in his time (including one of my favorites, Scott Rolen, but I’ll try to leave bias out of this). However, more importantly, he doesn’t always make sound judgements as a manager. I don’t even live in St. Louis, so I can only see the Cardinals when they’re on national television or when they come to town. Despite this obvious limitation, I can still instantly recall at least two games this season where his over-managing likely cost the Cardinals the game (the two I have in mind specifically being the 20-inning debacle against the Mets in April, and the Cubs game last month in which La Russa pulled all of the starters only to see the back-ups mount a near comeback). Of course, we can bicker all day about what might or might not have happened if La Russa hadn’t been making calls.
However, we can definitely show that La Russa hasn’t been putting the best players on the field. For example, as of late, Pedro Feliz and Skip Schumaker have been the starters at third and second base, respectively. You may recognize these two as two of the worst players in the majors. Going by Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement calculations, the two have each been worth -.1 wins this year in their time with the Cardinals (keep in mind WAR is a cumulative stat). The Cardinals have THREE players on the bench who have a higher WAR in less playing time (Tyler Greene, Felipe Lopez, and Aaron Miles). Yet, Tony La Russa continues to run out one of the worst infields in the majors, even though the Cardinals are trying for a playoff spot (and this isn’t even accounting for Brendan Ryan, who has managed one win ENTIRELY through his glove).
At the same time, it seems La Russa has been hesitant to guarantee Rasmus anything. Last year, he continued to put Rick Ankiel in the line-up despite Rasmus’s better numbers (2.3 wins to 0). When Ryan Ludwick returned from the DL, La Russa chose to sit Rasmus in order to keep Jon Jay in the line-up. Moments like these seem to indicate at best that La Russa isn’t fond of Rasmus, and, at worst, that he both dislikes Rasmus and has a blind devotion to struggling veterans that may cost the team a post-season. At the very least, I would say a 24-year old center fielder with All-Star-level ability is more valuable to the Cardinals going forward than a 65-year old manager. Again, I say this with all due respect and gratitude with La Russa and what he’s done for the team; this is merely what I think would benefit the franchise going forward.
I don’t know if this is truly an either/or situation. But if it truly does come down to keeping Tony La Russa OR keeping Colby Rasmus happy, I would have to side with Rasmus.