One of our ultimate challenges in establishing player values is to accurately estimate playing time. On some clubs, changing roles can also be an uncertainty.
Such was the case coming into 2010 with centerfield for the St. Louis Cardinals. After a year off, long-time star Jim Edmonds was basically begging to return, but was turned away. Fan favorite and 2009 incumbent Rick Ankiel was allowed to walk as a free agent and late last season, left fielder Chris Duncan, son of pitching coach Dave Duncan, was sent packing as well.
All of those moves helped open the way for Colby Rasmus. The Cardinals’ top pick in the 2005 draft has been viewed as the pride of a minor league player development organization that has been out of synch with the major league operation back to the Walt Jocketty days. Rasmus struggled at times during his rookie season last year but also showed glimpses of what he might become. Hopes were high for him coming into 2010.
Despite manager Tony La Russa not locking him into a set spot in the batting order, Rasmus was among the National League leaders in OPS among outfielders early on. That was interrupted by a calf injury that seemed to linger which opened the door for the emergence of rookie Jon Jay, the latter an inferior defensive centerfielder compared to Rasmus.
Though Rasmus was never placed on the disabled list, he missed several stretches of games. Comments, actions and non-actions by La Russa led some to wonder if Rasmus was in the manager’s dog house.
Further, Rasmus was being asked to modify his approach at the plate in real time to go the other way more often rather than emphasize power and he was struggling to make the adjustments.
When Rasmus still didn’t become an everyday player following the trade of Ryan Ludwick, his frustrations grew to the point he allegedly requested he also be shipped out. It apparently wasn’t the first time, as the youngster has chafed under La Russa’s hard-driving style.
Once this came out in the press, a series of claims that indicated trenches had been dug by both player and manager became evident. Whether that indicates Rasmus will remain with the club in 2011 and beyond remains to be seen.
One thing that has happened is that La Russa has pretty much stopped moving Rasmus all around his batting order, acknowledging that Rasmus is his best option as the number five hitter immediately behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Of course, Ludwick now being in San Diego is a factor in that decision as well.
Keep an eye on Rasmus’ usage and results during the final month as an indicator of whether his third season might be an improvement over the first two. Despite all the smoke, I would be surprised if his 2011 will be spent wearing another uniform.
Brian Walton is the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 12-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC last season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.