Rasmus and the Cardinals: Managing the Market?

Wondering from where and why the recent trade rumors about St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus originated.

Tony La Russa and Colby Rasmus (AP/David Kohl)After the late-season news about second-year St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus’ repeated trade requests became embarrassingly public, multiple attempts were made to smooth over the rough surfaces exposed. The player himself, the team’s superstar, the manager and the general manager were among the many engaged in damage control, among with others behind the scenes.

GM John Mozeliak was among the group that said all the right things, including emphasizing that his young star would not be going anywhere. That would seem to shut off trade speculation while also brushing off fears that Rasmus and manager Tony La Russa, who has been asked back for next year, cannot coexist.

Yet the reality of the Cardinals’ situation for 2011 is that they need more repair than their budget will likely allow via the free agent market. Their available trade chips are few.

As such, on Wednesday, the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss disclosed that there are at least three teams interested in acquiring Rasmus – Atlanta, Toronto and Arizona. Said Strauss:

“The Atlanta Braves have strong interest in Rasmus along with closer-in-waiting Craig Kimbrel. The Toronto Blue Jays are also intrigued. In other words, the Cardinals will have ample opportunity to turn down trade offers on Rasmus in upcoming weeks and months. Given the team’s inability to deal Pujols, Lohse, Holliday and Carpenter due to contractual language and their refusal to deal young arms such as Wainwright and Garcia, Rasmus represents the leading option for an “impact” trade.

“The Arizona Diamondbacks ranked 6th, 9th and 14th in production at the three OF positions and also have interest in ‘Raz’. In a rebuilding mode, the Diamondbacks feature the middle infield of Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson. Drew is second-time arbitration-eligible and a Boras client. Johnson is a free agent after next season and would likely be part of an expanded deal for Rasmus.

“Rasmus’ low salary also makes him a trading chip for a small-market club that could fill another pressing need.

“For a variety of reasons, Rasmus will almost certainly be in play,” Strauss concluded.

The specificity and strength of wording chosen in reporting the rumors was initially surprising to me. I wouldn’t ask Strauss to identify his source(s), nor would I expect him to disclose it if queried. That doesn’t mean I am not curious.

Perhaps he simply dialed up media counterparts or team contacts with the three prospective clubs and they volunteered their interest in Rasmus, news that had not been reported elsewhere.

Alternatively, perhaps the player’s representatives or even the Cardinals themselves quietly shared the information, knowing it would be amplified across the entire sports world.

Such a disclosure would make it clear to the other 26 teams that Rasmus is in play without the principals ever having to get their hands dirty by saying anything publicly. It also preserves the impression that all is well between Rasmus and the Cardinals, maximizing the outfielder’s external value.

If this is what is happening, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time in history the media played an enabling role in prospective trade activity.

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