Has the time come for Colby Rasmus?

Much like Jaime Garcia, who the St. Louis Cardinals are announcing a 4 year extension with today, Colby Rasmus will be arbitration eligible at the end of the season. Yet Garcia is about to enjoy security while Rasmus’ future is anything but secure.

The touted 5-tool center fielder was drafted in the first round of 2005’s MLB draft. He hit well through the minors and became the fifth best prospect in baseball in the 2008 Baseball America Top-100 list. In 2009, he moved up to third. But as of now, he’s looking more like a bust than a boon.

According to Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are reconsidering their stance of trading Colby Rasmus. Last year, he was a player that the team was interested in retaining. And why not, Rasmus enjoyed a fairly breakthrough season last year. He hit .276 with 23 HR and 66 RBI. It was a good improvement over his rookie season, and despite the rumors of Rasmus asking for a trade, he stayed a Cardinal.

The 2011 season started out well for Rasmus. He lit up the world in April as he got a chance to hit in the #2 slot in from of Albert Pujols. Being the hitter in front of Pujols, he would always get something around the strike zone to hit because the last thing you want to do is walk the guy who hits in front of the best hitter in baseball (or was before this season, but that’s another story altogether).

His defense was much improved too, with many recognizing a renewed focus in the outfield at the start of the season. He was making good decisions, taking good routes, and making good throws. Something he has struggled with.

As the season has worn on though, Rasmus finds himself mired in a slump, both offensively and defensively. Words from Tony LaRussa indicate that Rasmus is seeking instruction elsewhere, rather than with Mark McGwire and the other Cardinals’ coaches. It’s heavily believed that it is his’ father that he is working with.

Rasmus is hitting just .220 with a .297 OBP since May 1st. As a former first round draft pick, Rasmus will get every chance to succeed. He has pretty much been the unquestioned center fielder since day one. Part of me wonders if that’s not one of the problems.

Right now, Rasmus needs to find himself as a person. In an article on stltoday.com, Derrick Goold quotes Rasmus at the end of the article, “In the end, I have to learn myself. I have to learn my own swing. Then maybe I’ll be whatever everyone wants me to be.”

To me, that sounds like a guy who is pressured by expectations and seemingly doubts what he can do. I’m sure expectations are high on a first round draft pick who has been highly touted in the organization from day one and then handed a starting job as a young player, something Tony LaRussa rarely ever does willingly.

The good news is that he is working on improving and getting out of the slump. Why he would ignore the Cardinals coaching, who have worked at the major league level and who know what it takes to hit successfully there from first hand experience, is beyond me. You’d think that a player in a slump would take every piece of advice he could get. I know I have through my own hitting slumps.

This all leads into me considering that Colby Rasmus might be one of those change of scenery type players. If he was traded to another team, he is no longer seeing the same people who have all the expectations every day. A new team has new expectations, that he reclaim some of his success.

Regardless of the Rasmus issue, the Cardinals need to make a move if they want to remain serious contenders in the NL Central. More so now with the recent news that the Mets have traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers to help stabilize their bullpen. Colby Rasmus would be the biggest trade chip that the Cardinals have on the table.

But the ultimate question to be asked is whether or not trading Colby Rasmus is the right idea. Like all trades, we don’t know if that’s a good idea until we get a couple years down the road. I can say that it might be good for the player and depending on the returns, it might be good for the team too.

I wouldn’t rid myself of Rasmus for the first decent deal to come along, much like the team did with Brendan Ryan over the offseason, but if the price was right I would move Rasmus. However, I would want players in similar contract situations rather than a veteran player who was poised for free agency. I don’t trade a player under team control for three more years for a rent-a-player. Part of it is that Colby Rasmus could flip the switch on again and be the April player the rest of the way, but who knows when or if that will happen.

Jon Jay has had equal playing time this season and has been the far better player. My only problem with Jay is that what we’re getting out of him, just slightly better than a slumping Rasmus, is as good as you are going to get out of him. We are seeing his upside right now, while the sky is the limit with Rasmus if he turns it around and becomes the player he has the tools to be.

Another question for concern is whether a one year wiser Jon Jay will fall off. Last year, the team used Jon Jay as one of their primary reasons for trading away Ryan Ludwick. Jay would hit just .244 after becoming the primary starter in right field. Would that happen again? It’d be a concern for me if I was Cardinals management.

One thing I do know for sure: I’m glad it’s not my call.

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