What was the real point of the Rasmus trade?

It’s been two years since the St. Louis Cardinals suddenly dealt former uber-prospect Colby Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays mid-season for a host of pieces in return. And in the two years since that deal, the value of what’s come of the trade is still very much undetermined. There are some that say the deal was what sealed the 2011 World Series win, while others feel it was a necessary move to salvage the remaining value of Rasmus’ quickly dipping stock at the time. Yet the truth of the matter probably lays somewhere in-between, and the absolute value of how the Cardinals have emerged is on the verge of being a potential loss in the long-term.

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At the beginning of the 2011 season, Rasmus was a troubled, yet still integral part of the future of the team. He was the former top prospect of the organization as little as two years prior, and was just a year removed from a 23 home run breakout effort. Yet, that seemed like decades ago by the time the trade of him away was necessitated. The triangle of issues created between Colby/Tony Rasmus, Tony LaRussa and ultimately John Mozeliak, pushed Rasmus away from being a coveted talent, and into the problem child bin, and regardless of talent, problem children don’t get the same returns as promising talents do. So Mozeliak made a July trade to send Rasmus away in exchange for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson and Marc Rzepczynski, his stock had gotten to the point where it was just good to get anything back in return for him.

Of all of the acquisitions made in that deal, the then25-year-old lefty made the biggest difference in the club’s playoff and postseason run, and set up a solid basis of what to expect coming ahead. This was of particular importance as well, because he was the only part of the deal that had any guaranteed time with the team after 2011. Regardless of what Rasmus’ actual production was, he still carried a decent amount of name value and upside perception, so to come away from that deal with only a middle relief left-hander, that pitcher better surely become among the best at what he does. However, the year and a half since Rzepczynski has been a full-time Cardinal has been perhaps less fulfilling than any part of Rasmus’ on-field run.

Since the beginning of 2012, in 79 games, Rzepczynski has posted a 1-3 record, with a 4.77 ERA in 54.2 innings. His WHIP across that time has been a robust 1.44, and he has surrendered better than a hit per inning pitched. In fairness, he shouldered an inadequate amount of the load a year ago, as the only consistently available left-handed option, as the team went through a carousel of veteran flame outs around him. Yet, this season he’s struggled more than ever, posting a 7.88 ERA and surrendering a run in four of his nine appearances, with at least two in three of those efforts in an inning or less work. Overall, batters have hit .361 against him on the season, and that will not do in the leverage of the situations he’s called upon (or really any other either, at that), and yesterday, just a year and a half after being the promise received in return for promise dealt, Rzepczynski found himself headed towards a place he hadn’t been to since 2010: the minors.

In the first move to shake some life into the team’s lifeless bullpen, the club optioned him to Memphis in exchange for the 2011 organizational pitcher of the year, Seth Maness. This is a shocking move, whereas in it didn’t seem likely that the team would put itself voluntarily down to one left-handed reliever, but it also sends a message: get it done, or you’re replaceable. There’s a chance he won’t stay down for long, just enough time to rediscover what he lost along the way. There’s also the chance that he becomes a victim of the ever-emergent depth of arms converging on the Cardinals pitching staff from the minors. This is not a team to fall behind in fortune with, because there is always somebody who is pushing for a chance. It likely isn’t a death sentence for him, but it definitely will serve notice to anybody on the staff that is struggling.

All in all, looking back it’s tough to say what is what about the absolute outcome of the Rasmus/Blue Jays deal. What is clear is that something had to be done in the moment, and that the outcome of it did improve the team at the absolutely right moment. Despite popular opinion, it’s not THE move that won the World Series for the club; seasons like that don’t hinge on one moment. However, it did play a role in that moment, and with the after effect as it is shaking out around the only remaining part of the deal so soon after it was completed, perhaps it was the ultimate all-in maneuver for the moment.

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