Did the Cardinals give up too soon on developing Colby Rasmus into a top-shelf major leaguer?
The July 27 deal that sent disgruntled young outfielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski and reserve outfielder Corey Patterson was supposed to address all the St. Louis Cardinals' weaknesses in a run to the National League Central flag.
As we're approaching a month since the deal, several signs point to the decision to part ways with the Cardinals' former No. 1 draft pick being a hasty one.
Though Rasmus is hitting just .224 with three homers with his new club, his future—at age 24—still appears bright. The Cardinals, on the other hand, wanted to rid themselves of a player who wasn't getting along with manager Tony La Russa or the coaching staff. The Cards also acknowledged the deal was made to "win now" in helping the St. Louis playoff push.
Well, that "win now" move is looking like a wasted effort, as the Cardinals have gone 12-14 since shipping Rasmus to Canada. More importantly, the boiling Brewers have turned up the heat, opening what was a half-game advantage on July 27 to a whopping 10 games after last night's action. To make matters worse, the Braves have won six games in a row and now lead St. Louis by 10.5 games in the wild-card race.
Even some of the veterans are starting to talk about next year.
Some question whether Tony La Russa will return for his 17th season in St. Louis.
With the 2011 season seemingly in tatters, folks in the STL are beginning to wonder whether manager Tony La Russa would like to return—or even be given the chance to return—next year.
In an online poll, 58 percent of St. Louis Post-Dispatch voters said it was time for the team to move on, and only 21 percent said he should definitely remain the club's skipper.
This year's squad is perhaps the most talented bunch he's had in 16 years in the Gateway City, yet the Cardinals stand at 67-62, just five games over .500, and now sit buried with dim playoff hopes.
Add to that the probability of Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright AND Lance Berkman returning next year is growing slimmer by each gut-wrenching loss. Is it time to shake up the team? Perhaps.
But Colby Rasmus' departure had as much to do with getting him away from TLR as anything. In the trade, the Cardinals acquired four veterans, at least three of whom are likely to be rentals, for Rasmus, who turned 25 on August 11 and still has the potential to be a star slugger in the middle of somebody's lineup.
If La Russa leaves and the Cardinals rebuild from the ground up, Rasmus would certainly have factored prominently into the team's plans, teaming with Matt Holliday in the power-producing portion of the order.
Jon Jay has seen his batting average dip 13 points since Rasmus was dealt.
Even as the Rasmus/La Russa divide was becoming intolerable, Jon Jay was playing at a high level to be considered an everyday player. He started eight games prior to the Rasmus trade and was batting .312 when he assumed the starting center field spot on July 27.
But Jay hasn't settled into his new role yet and has bounced around the Cardinal batting order as well. Since the trade, Jay is hitting .259 in 85 at-bats with one homer and four RBI.
Jay is not the power hitter Rasmus is, nor will he ever be. The most homers Jay has ever hit as a pro was 12 in 2008; he has eight in 345 at-bats this year.
The Cardinals' July activity on the trade front was supposed to address three areas: a quality starting pitcher, some more reliable arms in the bullpen and more speed and athleticism at the top of the lineup.
In the latter area, the Cardinals have sacrificed Rasmus and installed shortstop Rafael Furcal in the leadoff spot and Jay in the No. 2 hole. Furcal is batting .227 since his acquisition from Los Angeles, and Jay has struck out 19 times while getting only 22 hits.
Edwin Jackson owns a 5.17 career ERA in the National League between the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Cardinals, as opposed to a 4.33 ERA in the American League.
The acquisition of hard-throwing Edwin Jackson from Chicago (via Toronto) hasn't produced the results the Cardinals hoped for.
After a good initial start July 29 in a win over the Cubs, Jackson got shelled the next time out, surrendering 10 runs in seven innings against the Brew Crew.
The last time he took the hill, Matt Garza outpitched him in a 3-0 Chicago victory. He stands at 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA in five starts, which is not as good as the man he replaced. Kyle McClellan went 7-6 with a 4.15 ERA as a starter before returning to the bullpen.
Jackson is in the final year of a two-year contract that pays him $8.35 million this year. Needless to say, he's pitching for his next contract and is definitely motivated to make a difference for the Cardinals.
Veteran Octavio Dotel has lost two games since his arrival from Toronto.
The acquisitions of Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Arthur Rhodes along with Kyle McClellan's return to the relief corps haven't significantly improved the team's ability to hold on to leads or lock down the opponent.
Monday's ninth-inning loss to the Dodgers represented another critical blow to the Cardinal hopes of catching either the Brewers or the Braves. Fernando Salas gave up a one-out, run-scoring triple to Aaron Miles, who scored the go-ahead run in a 2-1 loss, spoiling a terrific outing by Chris Carpenter.
Salas has blown two saves recently, while Dotel is 0-2 and Rhodes 0-1 since they arrived in St. Louis. Only Rzepczynski's 1.29 ERA in eight appearances represents a positive development out of the Rasmus trade.
Lance Berkman is having a renaissance year but said he hasn't ruled out retirement if the right situation doesn't present itself this offseason.
If the Colby Rasmus trade has made any positive impact on the NL Central race, it's been motivation for the Milwaukee Brewers. Since the Rasmus trade, the Brewers have gone 23-4, while the Cardinals have languished at 12-14.
Clearly, St. Louis is in win now mode, what with the uncertain offseason decisions regarding Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter, Edwin Jackson and Adam Wainwright.
General manager John Mozeliak decided to punt on player development and focus on the present, and the move apparently has backfired. With the playoff flame flickering on the edge of being extinguished, the Cardinals cupboard is a little less full without Rasmus' potential for an increased role next year.
The recent slide puts even more pressure on Mozeliak to figure out how the 2012 team will be constructed, because one thing is crystal-clear: The 2012 Cardinals will not look similar to this year's squad.
Without deep pockets or a foundation of young studs ready to assume leadership roles, the Cardinals teeter on the precipice of an all-out rebuilding process. St. Louis will likely miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, and Pujols will certainly feel compelled to at least entertain the overtures from clubs viewed as contenders as he reaches his early 30s.
Carpenter probably won't come back because of the team option at $15 million. Berkman was a bargain this year at $8 million but at 35 has not ruled out retirement if the right opportunity doesn't present itself.
Not to mention the futures of Mozeliak and La Russa aren't as concrete as they were recently considered.