Inside Baseball With Rob Rains: The Trade Market

If, and that still is a very big two-letter word, the Cardinals decide to try to trade Colby Rasmus — in the next two weeks, over the winter, or a year from now — there are two things which will have to happen. One, the Cardinals will have to find a team willing to trade for Rasmus, and two, that team must be willing to give the Cardinals players who they consider either equal or of greater value than Rasmus.

The Marlins' Randy Choate may be of great interest to the Cardinals

The first part should be easy. There are at least nine teams in need of a center fielder, and Rasmus, even with his inconsistencies and defensive issues, would provide an immediate upgrade at the position for all nine of those teams. It’s the second part which becomes the tricky issue for the Cardinals. If Rasmus could be convinced that it might be in his best interest long-term to become a leftfielder, the list probably expands to more than nine teams which would be interested in him.

The Cardinals’ biggest need right now appears to be for a left-handed reliever who can retire a left-handed batter at a key moment in the game. With 12 games to play against Milwaukee, and Prince Fielder, and three games left against the Reds, and Joey Votto, that one factor might be the one which decides the pennant race in the NL Central.

That player alone, however, no matter his importance to the current makeup of the Cardinals, would not be sufficient value to obtain in a trade for Rasmus. More than likely, the Cardinals need to pick up a couple of high-level prospects, probably pitchers or a shortstop, if they are going to part with their former number-one draft pick, who people forget, is still only 24 years old.

If the Cardinals want to talk now about a possible trade for Rasmus, it would seem to make the most sense for GM John Mozeliak to be calling his counterpart on these teams, which are listed in alphabetical order:

Atlanta – Through the All-Star break, the Braves had the worst batting average for centerfielders in the NL (.222) and had only four home runs and 18 RBIs combined between Jordan Schaffer and Nate McLouth. The Braves actually have two quality left-handed relief specialists in All-Star Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. They also have a promising left-handed starter, Mike Minor, in Triple A, and their 2010 No. 1 draft pick, shortstop Matt Lipka, playing in Class A.

Chicago White Sox – The White Sox owe Alex Rios a lot of money, but he is having a terrible year. Their combined centerfielders hit even worse than the Braves, .210, before the All-Star break and Rios was only slightly better with a .213 average with six homers and 21 RBIs. When John Danks comes back off the disabled list, the White Sox will have six starting pitchers. Most observers believe they will trade Edwin Jackson, who threw a shutout on Saturday in front of several scouts, including one from the Cardinals. Another starter might interest the Cardinals more, however. How about left-hander and St. Charles native Mark Buehrle, now 32, who has talked openly about one day wanting to pitch for the Cardinals before he retires. He is a free agent after the season and would have to approve any trade.

Florida – The Marlins traded for veteran Mike Cameron before the All-Star break, but he is not the team’s long-term answer. Putting Rasmus in the middle of Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton would give Florida a talented young outfield for years to come. Combined, the Marlins’ centerfielders hit .234 before the All-Star break and had just seven home runs. The Marlins have pitching to trade, both starters and relievers, and names such as Ricky Nolasco, Annabel Sanchez and Leo Nunez certainly should come up in any discussion about Rasmus.

San Diego – The Padres like Cameron Maybin, which is why they might be included to move Rasmus to left field. Everyone knows about Heath Bell and Mike Adams in their bullpen, but another name to consider is former Cardinal prospect Luke Gregerson, and they also have a young flamethrower in the minors, right-hander Brad Broch, who was just promoted from Double A to Triple A. The Padres actually think they might get more in return for Adams than Bell since he is under contract through next season.

Seattle – The Mariners’ centerfielders had the worst average in the majors before the All-Star break, .196, with five homers and only 21 RBIs. The Mariners don’t really have the pitching depth to trade off the major-league roster, but they do have two young talented shortstops in the minors, Nick Franklin and Marcus Littlewood, who might interest the Cardinals.

San Francisco – A lot was said and written before the break about the Giants’ interest in Carlos Beltran, but the asking price for the Mets’ outfielder is going to be very high and will attract interest from a lot of teams. The Giants do need a centerfielder after posting only a .248 average with 3 homers and 24 RBIs before the All-Star break. If the asking price for Beltran gets too high, maybe the Giants would look at Rasmus. They have quality left-handed relief specialist in Javier Lopez, another very good setup reliever in Sergio Romos and two young minor leaguers, a left-handed starter named Eric Suskemp and an outfielder named Francisco Peguero.

Tampa Bay – Like the Beltran talks, the buzz about Rasmus before the break seemed to center on the Rays. Their only interest in Rasmus would seem to be if they could also move B.J. Upton at the same time, either in that or another trade. There would seem to be no incentive for them to trade starter Jeremy Hellickson, although James Shield would appear to be a more likely target for the Cardinals. They also have left-handed reliever Jake McGee, who was just promoted to the majors this week from Triple A.

Toronto – The Blue Jays centerfielders had a combined .244 average before the All-Star break with only four home runs, although Rajah Davis had 24 stolen bases. Toronto has several relievers who are said to be available, but the Cardinals would likely want a higher return for Rasmus.

Washington – The Nationals primary centerfielder before the break was former Cardinal Rick Ankiel, who is struggling and without former Cardinal connection Jim Riggleman there, his playing time could start to diminish, B.J. Upton’s name has been linked to the Nationals for some time, but it isn’t known the actual level of their interest. What would or should interest the Cardinals would be if the Nationals would consider trading All-Star Tyler Clippard, a right-hander who also has been very effective against left-handed batters.

The market for left-handed specialists

With or without bringing up Rasmus, the Cardinals are expected to be exploring the market for a left-handed specialist between now and the July 31 trading deadline. These six would appear to be the best of the lot, and again, at least worthy of a phone conversation:

Jonny Venters, Atlanta – There probably is no way the Braves would consider trading the All-Star, but they do have another lefthanded reliever in Eric O’Flaherty and rookie Craig Kimbrel gets the bulk of the save opportunities. Through Saturday he had allowed only seven hits in 51 at-bats to left-handed batters, a 137 average, and had four walks and 20 strikeouts. For his two-year career, lefthanded batters have only posted a .177 average against Venters.

Randy Choate, Florida — The 35-year-old veteran is a target for several teams, including the Yankees, which figures to bring up the asking price. He has allowed only five hits in 53 at-bats to lefthanded hitters this season before Saturday, a .053 average, with one walk and 23 strikeouts. For his career, Choate has held left-handers to a .205 average.

Marc Rzepczynski, Toronto – The 25-year-old has been outstanding this season for the Blue Jays, holding left-handed batters to a .152 average (10-of-66) with six walks and 21 strikeouts. He has held opposing left-handers to a .209 average for his career.

Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta – He is the same age as Venters, 26, but has not received the same level of attention. Quietly, however, he has been very effective, holding left-handed batters to a .182 average this season (10-of-55) with two walks and 12 strikeouts. O’Flaherty actually has more experience than Venters and for his career has held left-handed opponents to a .219 average.

Cory Luebke, San Diego – The Padres moved Luebke into their starting rotation in late June, but before then he was very effective against left-handed batters, holding them to a .152 average. For his career, opponents are hitting only .181 against the 26-year-old Luebke.

Javier Lopez, San Francisco – The 34-year-old left-hander has been a key setup man for Brian Wilson with the Giants, holding opponents to a .111 average (7-of-63) while issuing seven walks and 20 strikeouts. Left-handers have a career .220 average against Lopez.

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