Colby Rasmus

The Cardinals should trade Colby Rasmus this summer

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… If they can get a No. 3 starter or better.

Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus was drafted in 2005 as a five-tool high school outfielder, the first marquee selection by highly regarded and so-far-successful farm director Jeff Luhnow, a high-IQ guy hired out of the business world in 2003.

Rasmus’ arm hasn’t developed as quickly as the organization had hoped and he’s played hesitant defense at times since arriving in St. Louis in 2009. The power has been there, but only in spurts, and he hasn’t been aggressive on the basepaths in his two-plus major league seasons, trying only 31 steals.

That doesn’t mean Rasmus won’t suddenly put it all together. He had a productive .859 OPS in 144 games last season at the age of 23 and he registered a .391 on-base percentage this April, tallying 10 extra-base hits in 26 games. Rasmus is a comet going from first-to-third. He takes great at-bats and draws walks in bunches when he’s playing with confidence. As a young, productive, cost-controlled center fielder with tools and upside, the 24-year-old is a rare and valuable commodity in modern Major League Baseball.

But Rasmus hasn’t been a major difference-maker this year in the Cardinals’ quest to recapture the National League Central crown and that doesn’t seem to likely to change. Trading him, if the return is right, could mean not only a better a shot at the division title, but also a better chance at making a late postseason run.

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In 2004 second-round pick Jon Jay, the Redbirds have a pre-packaged replacement. He doesn’t have nearly the upside of Rasmus, but the 26-year-old former Miami Hurricane has been a steady presence all over the St. Louis outfield this season with Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols each spending time on the disabled list. As an active fourth outfielder in 2010, Jay managed a cool .300/.359/.422 rookie batting line. This year, he’s hitting .304/.352/.438  with seven home runs and five stolen bases in 248 plate appearances.

Jay is quick, takes good jumps in the outfield, and plays more confidently near stadium walls than Rasmus. He never made a Baseball America Top 100 prospects list, but he had multiple productive seasons during his time in the Cards’ minor league system and his career on-base percentage in the big leagues (.356) is quite a bit higher than Rasmus’ (.333). Jay’s career OPS in the majors (.785) is also better than Rasmus’ (.775).

Though most would agree that it’s a fact bound to change, Jay is a better all-around major league outfielder than Rasmus here in mid-July, 2011. And that matters for a variety of reasons.

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Lance Berkman is on a one-year contract and Pujols is an impending free agent. If the Cardinals want right-hander Chris Carpenter back, it might have to mean picking up his $15 million club option for 2012. The team will be buoyed by other contributors and a big spending budget if all three depart in the offseason, but there should be a small element of urgency sweeping through the Busch Stadium front office this summer.

As it stands, the Cardinals don’t have the starting pitching to thrive in October. Adam Wainwright isn’t going to be cleared to return from Tommy John surgery until next season and Kyle McClellan’s conversion to the rotation has hit a few recent roadbumps. Carpenter has shown remarkable determination in turning his season around, but his stuff simply isn’t what it used to be. Jake Westbrook has struggled to keep his sinker down. Jaime Garcia only seems to operate well at home. And Kyle Lohse is due for a regression.

If trading Rasmus means acquiring a starting pitcher who can finish strong in the regular season, factor into the postseason rotation, and remain under team control through 2013 or longer, the risk is worth it. McClellan could be moved back to his more familiar setup role, where he possesses a 3.22 career ERA.

With Pujols, Berkman, Holliday and David Freese all finally healthy, and Yadier Molina slugging .415, the Cardinals have ample offense. But they need a pitcher with the ability to go six or seven quality innings every five days in order to break away from the Brewers, Reds and Pirates in the second half. And they’ll need that reliable starter again when it comes time to face the Phillies, or Giants, or Braves in a playoff series.

The Cardinals no longer have a fruitless farm system. Jay and Craig are proof of that, as is utilityman Daniel Descalso, who looks ready defensively at the age of 24. Lance Lynn, Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas appear to have bright futures in relief, and they’re all four homebred. Add to that the fact that three Cardinals pitching prospects made Keith Law’s midseason Top 50 list, released Thursday.

The Cardinals don’t have to fret about entering a period without cost-controlled talent. It’s now almost plentiful. And if one of those young arms needs to be moved to upgrade the outfield down the road, so be it.

St. Louis’ decision-makers should not feel beholden to the desire to make a bright-futured guy like Rasmus “work,” or “fit.” They’ve performed too well in recent drafts and on the international market to worry about taking risks with young talent, and they’ve certainly put up with babysitting for long enough. Colby has twice issued a request to be shipped out of town. If a high-impact starter can be had, and if that pitcher comes with a reasonable, multi-year contract, the Cardinals should grant the Rasmus family’s wish before the end of July.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 23: Rob Segedin #25 of the Los Angeles Dodgers crosses the plate after a solo home run in the second inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 8, Nationals 1: Kevin Gausman tossed six shutout innings and, even though the O’s had a seven-run lead, Vance Worley got a save because the save rule is kind of dumb. Adam Jones went 4-for-5 and Chris Davis hit his 30th home run. After these past two games in Baltimore they now play two games in Washington. I wonder if they fly into National Airport or Dulles.

Pirates 7, Astros 1: Ivan Nova took a shutout into the ninth inning and, despite allowing one run in the final frame, finished with a six-hitter that took only 98 pitches to complete. Gregory Polanco hit two home runs and the Pirates had a 4-0 lead before making their first out of the game. This, hopefully, freed up fans watching at home to switch over to their Roku players to catch up on “Mr. Robot,” which everyone should be watching. The Christian Slatersainnce is happening, people.

Blue Jays 7, Angels 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs on six hits and got a good bit of run support for once, thanks in part to Russell Martin‘s three hits and two driven in. Tyler Skaggs of the Angels walked five dudes including issuing a free pass to Martin with the bases loaded. That’s no way to go through life, son.

Reds 3, Rangers 0: Dan Straily and three relievers combined to shut out the Rangers. Joey Votto singled in one and knocked another in via a sac fly. Billy Hamilton didn’t hit but boy did he field:

Just look at the amount of ground he covered with that catch. He was shading way to right field as it was and still made it over there. It wasn’t just his wheels that helped him there, though obviously most guys don’t catch up to that ball, but his jump and his route was great too. Man.

Royals 1, Marlins 0: Yordano Ventura and three relievers combined to shut out the Marlins. Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton didn’t do anything to help here as they were over 1,100 miles away playing in a different game. The Royals have won nine in a row and their bullpen, for all of its injuries, has tossed 32 consecutive scoreless innings, which is a franchise record. The Royals are still seven and a half back in the division and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them, but they’re . . . interesting.

Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Clay Buchholz pitched one-run ball into the seventh inning and struck out nine. That’s the second strong start in a row for Buchholz and the third at least decent one since being put back in the rotation. The Clay Buchholziannce?

White Sox 9, Phillies 1: Carlos Rodon continued his good pitching since coming off the DL, allowing only three hits in six and two-thirds. Jose Abreu homered for the third straight game and singled in a run as well. Justin Morneau hit a solo homer.

Brewers 6, Rockies 4: Hernan Perez hit a two-run triple in the Brewers’ three-run seventh inning to help key a comeback win. Brent Suter got his first career win and Corey Knebel got his first career save, and then things got . . . weird:

. . . their teammates doused them in whatever they could find after the game.

“They are going to share the (game) ball, mail it back and forth to each other in the offseason, maybe, to kind of caress and live that moment again,” Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson joked. “But they enjoyed the shower together. I can tell you I did see that — a little mustard, ketchup, all of the above. It was great.”

Baseball After Dark.

Tigers 8, Twins 3: Cameron Maybin walked twice — once with the bases loaded — and singled in two more runs in the sixth, putting the Tigers up for good. Erick Aybar singled in a run and homered. He’s hitting .292/.320/.500 since coming over from the Braves because life makes no sense.

Mets 7, Cardinals 4: Jon Niese got knocked out with an injury in the first inning but Johnny Wholestaff, led by Robert Gsellman, who pitched three and two-thirds shutout innings in his unexpected major league debut, came on and got the job done. Despite never being in the bigs before, he has his cliche game down already, saying after the game that he just tried to “make some pitches.” In all the Mets ran out six relievers to take care of things while Wilmer Flores hit a three-run homer and four other Mets drove in a run a piece for a weird victory.

Braves 7, Diamondbacks 4: With the Braves down one, Matt Kemp hit a bases-loaded double in the eighth. Two of the runs were driven in, a third scored on the play when the outfielder bobbled the ball. After the game Braves manager Brian Snitker said “He’s been there, done that. You know, he’s an RBI guy.”

Yankees 5, Mariners 1: CC Sabathia, who I’ve mentally written off a whole bunch of times, allowed one run over seven innings and struck out seven. So he lives. Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-run homer, so he lives too.

Athletics 9, Indians 1: Khris Davis, atoning for his bad-looking strikeout to end the game the night before, hit a three-run homer in the first and the A’s never looked back.  Sean Manaea was sharp for seven innings and Oakland had no trouble knocking Danny Salazar around.

Dodgers 9, Giants 5: Remember back when the story was that Madison Bumgarner owned the Dodgers? Yeah, not really operative anymore. He’s dropped quite a few to his team’s biggest rival lately and took a beating last night, allowing five runs on nine hits in five innings. Adrian Gonzalez hit a sac fly and drove in two more with a single. Rookie outfielder Rob Segedin hit a homer off of Bumgarner early and then, in the eighth inning, was switched out of the game because his wife went into labor. Big night for Segedin. His kid is, unfortunately, gonna have to hear the story of the night he/she was born for the rest of his/her life, though.

Cubs 5, Padres 3: Jake Arrieta threw eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball for his 16th win. It’s been an up and down season for Arrieta but he’s back up again. Kris Bryant and Addison Russell homered. Yawn.

Jon Niese leaves start with knee pain

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Mets starter Jon Niese left his start Tuesday night against the Cardinals due to left knee pain.

Niese walked two and gave up an RBI single before leaving with a trainer with one out in the bottom of the first inning. He was eventually charged with three earned runs. Robert Gsellman, just up from Las Vegas, took over, making his major league debut under unexpected circumstances.

Niese, who has not pitched well at all since coming over in a trade with the Pirates, is likely to be placed on the disabled list after the game or before tomorrow’s game.