Where might Colby Rasmus play next year?

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If the rift between Tony La Russa and Colby Rasmus forces the Cardinals to part with their 24-year-old center fielder, there will surely a be a ton of interest. Rasmus is hitting .266/.352/.496 in his second big-league season, and he’s not close to reaching his ceiling. He’s also a Gold Glove-caliber defender. He should be a building block in St. Louis, but if the Cards decide to make a move, it’s not like they’ll have to settle for 10 cents on the dollar. Let’s look at some of the teams that could be interested:
Boston: The Red Sox are thinking of moving on from Jacoby Ellsbury anyway and there’s certainly no better long-term replacement available than Rasmus, though with Mike Cameron signed and Ryan Kalish showing some potential, the Red Sox wouldn’t necessarily need to bring in a center fielder to replace Ellsbury. Whether a Boston trade would work would likely come down to how the Cardinals feel about Ellsbury. They could certainly use the leadoff hitter, but Ellsbury’s stock has taken a hit as a result of his injury-ruined season. The Cardinals would probably want a top prospect to go along with him, perhaps right-hander Casey Kelly or shortstop Jose Iglesias. Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie for Rasmus could be more to Boston’s liking.
Tampa Bay: B.J. Upton has stepped it up offensively in recent weeks and hasn’t exhibited the signs of laziness that got him benched earlier this season, but if the Rays could use him and one of their young pitchers to upgrade to Rasmus, it’d be a brilliant move. Jeremy Hellickson would be off limits, but Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann could work. My guess is that the Cardinals would want top outfield prospect Desmond Jennings instead of Upton.
L.A. Dodgers: Matt Kemp for Rasmus? It’d seem to work great as a challenge trade. Kemp is one of the few players in the game with as much natural talent as Rasmus, and while he has taken a big step backwards this year, he was probably one of the NL’s top 10 players a year ago. He’s also just two years older than Rasmus. The big issue is that he’s also two years closer to free agency. Kemp will make $6.95 million next year and will be arbitration eligible in 2012 before becoming a free agent. That might be enough to scare the Cardinals off, unless maybe the Dodgers are willing to add in some young talent.
Atlanta: Just imagine Rasmus and Jason Heyward playing together for the next several years. Now move on, because it seems pretty unlikely to happen. The Braves have the pieces to tempt the Cardinals in left-hander Mike Minor, right-hander Julio Teheran and possible future closer Craig Kimbrel, but they’re going to need those guys soon with Derek Lowe looking like an iffy bet going forward and Billy Wagner set to retire.
San Diego: The Padres haven’t made big trades in recent years, but maybe they’ll be willing to roll the dice now that they seem so well set up for 2011. Rasmus would be a huge get as a long-term center fielder, and with Chase Headley and pitchers like Cory Luebke, Luke Gregerson, Wade LeBlanc and Tim Stauffer, they can part with pieces that could contribute in St. Louis immediately.
Washington: It’d be quite a coup if the Nationals could solve their center-field problems with Rasmus, but they don’t seem to match up very well with the Cardinals. They can afford to part with either Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa, yet they need to hold on to most of their young pitching. Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen would be awfully attractive pieces if made available, but both should stay put. The Nationals can afford to be aggressive in free agency in an effort to beef up their offense.
L.A. Angels: Peter Bourjos is truly outstanding defensively and he’ll make the minimum these next three years, so the Angels might as well stick with him and look to upgrade elsewhere. Maybe they could build a trade package around Bourjos and their other young talent, but they just have too many weaknesses to tie up so many resources in a single upgrade at a position where they could be OK.
N.Y. Yankees: Simply because they can never be ruled out of these things. Still, if the Yankees go get themselves an outfielder this winter, I expect it will be Carl Crawford.
N.Y. Mets: The only way a deal would make much sense here is if the Cardinals fell in love with Angel Pagan and were willing to take him and some lesser talent for Rasmus. Upgrading in center won’t be a priority for the Mets this winter.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.