September 7, 2010 at 12:24 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
You might have heard about the rift between Tony LaRussa and Colby Rasmus resulting in Rasmus requesting a trade from St. Louis. I won’t comment on the Cardinals’ management of the situation. However, this piece of news is certainly relevant to the Braves if the Cardinals do decide to trade Rasmus. If you haven’t noticed, Rick Ankiel, Nate McLouth, and Melky Cabrera aren’t good enough to play center field every day, and the Braves will most likely be shopping for a CF’er this Winter after they decline Ankiel’s option, non-tender Melky Cabrera, and fruitlessly try to trade Nate McLouth (who will most likely be retained as a reserve).
Enter Colby Rasmus, who will easily be the best available center fielder if the Cardinals will trade him. Rasmus is a 23-year-old Columbus, GA native. He hits and throws left handed. His best tool is his power, which he’s currently showing off in bunches with 19 homers in 367 AB’s and a .232 ISO. He strikes out a lot (about 26% of his MLB AB’s and 23% of his MiLB AB’s), but he walks a lot as well (about 9% of his MLB PA’s and 11% of his MiLB PA’s). He stole 74 bases in 3 full seasons-worth of AB’s in his minor league career and was caught only 17 times, but he’s only 13-for-20 in his MLB career. Regardless, he does run well–plenty well enough to be at least an average defender in CF with a plus arm to boot–and he has enough speed to be more than just a pick-a-spot base stealer. In short, he’s an impact player with plus tools across the board.
But arguably the biggest asset Rasmus possesses isn’t his tools, but his contract, which pays him around league minimum in 2011 and arbitration salaries in 2012-2014. Cost-controlled talent is the holy grail for sub-New-York-market teams, they spend countless resources to develop it. The opportunity to acquire it is rare, especially before the player reaches his first arbitration year.
Along those lines, it would take quite a bit to acquire Rasmus. In an effort to quantify exactly how much, Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory was kind enough to provide me with the ZiPS projected on-base average and slugging average for Colby Rasmus in 2011-2014:
As we all know, projection systems are far from perfect, but they do give us a decent proxy for future value, and they’re certainly better than just guessing.
Once we have OBA and SLG%, we can easily convert them to wOBA using the method detailed here, which we can then convert to runs and–with the assistance of a few fielding numbers and some playing time guesses–wins. Using the projections and 600 PA’s per season (aka best-case scenario WRT playing-time) leads us to about 4.1 wins per season, which for a player making league minimum in 2011 and arbitration-eligible 2012-2014 makes him a ~$48 million asset.
It may be true that Rasmus is likely to exceed his projected OBA and SLG% in the future. It’s also unlikely that he’ll stay healthy enough to accumulate around 2,400 PA’s between 2011 and 2014, meaning the 4.1 win figure is a fairly good estimate of his true talent level going forward.
As for any trade involving the Braves, the package naturally starts with pitching. In the case of acquiring an elite player like Rasmus, it starts with a MLB-ready pitcher. Assuming Tommy Hanson is off the table (though the two may be more or less the same in terms of value), Mike Minor, Jair Jurrjens, and Jonny Venters are the acceptable starting points.
Beyond that it’s a matter of adding prospects to the package to bring the value up to around $48 million. I suspect Randall Delgado would have to be involved, along with a couple of the more middling types. It’s an extremely steep price to pay–a starter or relief ace, plus a top-50 pitching prospect and others–but it’s also quite a blow for the Cardinals to part with a young, cost-controlled, elite player.
We don’t know what opportunities will be available during the off season, so this is nothing more than something to keep an eye on. But going into 2011 with a starting OF that includes Colby Rasmus and Jason Heyward is a pretty enticing proposition from here, and if Rasmus is in fact available, the Braves should consider it.