Report: Rasmus requested trade earlier this season

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Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a bit of news that will add lighter fluid to the stack of rumors hinting at a “rift” between Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and 24-year-old outfielder Colby Rasmus.

Strauss heard from sources that Rasmus requested a trade earlier this season because of “frustrations” with La Russa and his lack of everyday playing time. 

It’s not hard to believe.  Ryan Ludwick, in fact, made a similar request just before he was traded to the Padres in late July and it’s beginning to look like we may have a scapegoat for what has been a horribly disappointing season in St. Louis: the skipper himself. 

La Russa has a Hall of Fame track record as a manager and has enjoyed a great amount of success over the past 15 years in the Gateway City.  But it’s time for the Cardinals to step forward and acknowledge that Rasmus, a five-tool player with sky-high upside, is far more important to the Cardinals’ future than La Russa, a 65-year-old manager who is so out of touch that he thought sending his superstar Latino first baseman to a Glenn Beck rally was a good idea.

Rasmus needs to play every day, or at least more than 145 games per season.  He started only 114 times last year and has started only 97 times in 133 opportunities in 2010.  Even if you attribute 20 of those missed starts this year to a calf injury, that still leaves 16 unexplained absences.

La Russa enjoys tweaking his lineups often and finding at-bats for mediocre veterans — see: Aaron Miles and Randy Winn.  That sort of mix-and-match strategy has worked in the past and Tony has a couple of rings to show for it, but this year it has upset his offensive core. 

Or, at least Rasmus and Ludwick.  Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday are well-paid family men who probably go unaffected by clubhouse dynamics.

The solution to this problem in St. Louis comes down to simple math.  One, 24-year-old center fielders with 30-homer power don’t come around often.  Two, I can find you a 65-year-old manager down at the local softball lot.  Not to be over-dramatic, but my guess is the random old man will have the presence of mind to lead a team with three sub-3.00 ERA starters (and Albert friggin’ Pujols) to the postseason while also managing to maintain a healthy relationship with the hugely talented Rasmus.

If the Cardinals do decide to shake things up this offseason, the cuts should start at the top.

UPDATE:  La Russa has confirmed the report, according to B.J. Rains of FOX Sports Midwest, also saying that Rasmus requested a trade last season.

UPDATE:  Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse grabbed a few telling quotes from Rasmus on Sunday morning.  Asked if he was happy with the Cardinals, the center fielder said, “I’d rather not answer that if I don’t have to.”

A far-fetched sounding drug test scam

NES TSIONA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 22:  A laboratory technician checks human blood samples before placing the glass tubes on an automated testing line at the Maccabi Health Services HMO central laboratory January 22, 2006 in Nes Tsiona which is located in central Israel. The laboratory, which operates a fully automated system complete with advanced robotics, can test more than 50,000 blood samples a day. The lab is considered one of the most modern of its kind in the western world.  (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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Kevin Draper at Deadspin is passing along a story — and that’s not me editorializing; he’s admitting that it’s unconfirmed gossip at the moment — about a major league player paying a teammate $2.5 million to take the fall for him on a drug test. The story came via a tip from someone who, apparently, had a conversation about the drug test scam with a college baseball player who knew the players allegedly involved in the scam.

Here is how the conversation was recounted:

College Baseball Player: [MLB player’s star teammate] paid him to take his blood test. $2.5 million dollars.

Bar Patron: How does that even work?

College Baseball Player: [MLB player] and [MLB player’s star teammate] were getting tested the same day. They traded samples.

Deadspin says that the story is “probably bulls**t” but that some preliminary investigating they’ve done doesn’t disprove it and, to some extent corroborates it. How it’s been supported or not is left unclear and Deadspin couches all of this in a request for more information if anyone has any. Which, OK, fine.

I’ll offer that, on the surface, this seems like a bit more than mere “bulls**t.” It sounds structurally impossible. If it’s a blood test for HGH as the excerpt suggests, the samples are tested back in the lab to make sure they match up with previous samples. Meaning: the lab processing the sample knows if it’s your blood or not. If it’s a urine test, as Deadspin thinks it may have been, I’m not sure how samples could be switched given that urine tests are directly observed by testing officials. Yes, they watch you pee. They’d likely prevent you from peeing right next to your bro teammate, but even if you did, they’d see you exchange little plastic containers of urine with him.

I’m not going to say that this is 100% bull because we can’t really know for sure, but the scenario as described sounds highly unlikely, approaching the impossible. If someone had a story about bribing a sample taker with $2.5 million well, hey, maybe we’re getting somewhere, because that would get you over some procedural hurdles. For now, though, this all sounds like someone passing along a tall tale.

If it is true? Hoo boy, that’d be fun. At least for people like me who write about this stuff.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.