St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers

Not satisfied with the current product, the Cardinals are trying to change center fielder Colby Rasmus

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A follow-up to this post can be found right HERE.

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The drama continues between the Cardinals’ coaching staff and young outfielder Colby Rasmus.

It was only six months ago that the now 24-year-old Rasmus requested a trade away from St. Louis because of a tarnished relationship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.  And it was only three months ago that Albert Pujols said the organization should “figure out a way to get him out of here.”

Colby didn’t feel that he was being treated like an everyday player and didn’t agree with La Russa’s philosophies on hitting.  Rasmus views himself as a power hitter — a 30-homer guy who just happens to steal bases.  La Russa, meanwhile, has preached that Rasmus try to become a more gap-to-gap type of batter and to use his legs to produce runs.

La Russa is apparently driving home that philosophy this winter with the help of an offseason program designed by Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire.  It calls for Rasmus to slim down, to stay off the weights, and to work on his quick-twitch leg muscles.

Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation Blog gathered a couple of revealing comments on the program Thursday from Tony Rasmus, father of Colby and highly successful high school baseball coach in Alabama:

“Colby has been working on spraying the ball around the field this offseason via the Big Mac approach. Hasn’t been lifting since the plan is to be a slap hitter so there is no need for the added muscle. The goal I hear is to hit .300 and hit more ground balls and line drives the other way.”

While it’s odd to discourage any young hitter from trying to drive the ball deep, Rasmus has struggled with high strikeout numbers and has posted some rather alarming flyball rates in his first two major league seasons.  In 2010, he had the 11th-highest flyball percentage in the game, lofting batted balls 48.6% of the time.  McGwire and La Russa are probably thinking that a more contact-minded approach at the plate will help Rasmus become a better all-around hitter.

Of course, there’s the other side.  The side suggesting that a flyball rate might not always be a bad thing.  Jose Bautista and Adam Dunn ranked in the Top 10 for flyball rates this past year and still had highly productive offensive seasons.  Pujols had a 44.5% flyball rate.  Jayson Werth clocked in at 45.4%.  Paul Konerko’s was 45.0%.

Those guys are bonafide sluggers, but they can also be defined simply as great hitters.  Rasmus isn’t quite to that level, but he’s moving in that direction.  Or, he was, until La Russa and Mac decided this winter — or probably this past summer — to make a change in the young man.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“[Colby] weighed in yesterday at 180 lbs and is running 5 miles a day trying to get quicker and lose a little more. Wants to be at 175 by spring training. He is working the abs but nothing else in the weight room. Gonna try to be a Brett Gardner slap it and run.

Gardner is a nice player.  He swiped 47 bases in 56 chances this year for the Yankees and made himself into an undeniable full-timer.  The Yanks barely looked at free agent outfielder Carl Crawford this winter because they’ve become so comfortable with Gardner’s contributions.

Rasmus, though, can be far better.  He can drive the ball out of the park with the best of baseball’s young outfielders and that’s an ability that should not be diminished.  The home run, after all, is the best outcome for a hitter in any plate appearance.  Yes, any plate appearance.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“I’m curious to see this new hitting style at work. What they’re telling me is Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks this year but will be more consistent. I’m told that he will look alot like Jon Jay without all the pre swing motion. More like the Skip Schumaker and Jay stuff to left field. IT will be curious to watch.”

Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks.”  It’s not too difficult to read through the lines on that remark and to recognize that the elder Rasmus does not agree with the the Cards’ new approach. Especially when he names a guy like Schumaker, one of the least productive regulars in baseball.

Tony Rasmus coached his son from birth until the draft, and probably even after draft.  He’s one of those all-in amateur baseball coaches who tight-ropes along the line of passion and over-involvement.  And the biggest prize of his coaching career — his son — is playing for the National League’s most successful franchise, and under a Hall of Fame manager with a reputation for high-strung hardheadedness.  That’s two hardheaded baseball men with two very different philosophies on what is best for young Colby.

La Russa might have the resume, but who knows Colby’s swing better than his father, a lifetime observer of his son’s flaws and fine points?

There might not be a great answer to that.  What is for certain is that the situation is sticky, maybe even awkward.  What if the elder Rasmus was the one behind that June trade request?  And what if that same request is made next summer, when the younger Rasmus is at single-digit “jacks” around the trade deadline?

It’s usually best to simply let the good ones play.

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UPDATE: Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has suggested that Tony Rasmus’ comments were part of a “hoax” or meant as tongue-in-cheek.  In fact, Strauss told me that I should take this story down.

I can’t do that.  Strauss has confirmed that it was indeed Rasmus’ father who made those remarks.  Whether they were sincere and Colby is working on a new approach, or whether they were made in an entirely facetious manner, it’s all very toxic.

Either the Cardinals are really trying to change his son’s batting style or Tony Rasmus is publicly mocking La Russa and McGwire.  I might argue that the latter is worse, given that Colby requested a trade just last summer and his father has butted heads with Cardinals coaches in the past.

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UPDATE: Strauss says that Tony Rasmus’ comments were made in a completely tongue-in-cheek manner and that Rasmus isn’t actually being asked to become a slap hitter.  Still, this feels a bit strange.  As Strauss notes, the comments read like a “joke with teeth.”

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.