Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Colby Rasmus Trade: A Two-Year Retrospective

It’s minor news, so it took me a while to get around to writing about it, but the Cardinals finally traded reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the Cleveland Indians. This marks the end of one half of a trade I covered quite a bit two years ago. The Cardinals, in preparation of a stretch run, traded away then-24-year-old center fielder Colby Rasmus (and three bullpen arms who would all leave the team by the next season) to Toronto. In exchange, the Blue Jays sent over Edwin Jackson, Corey Patterson, Octavio Dotel, and Rzepczynski.

With the trade of Rzepczynski, Rasmus now stands as the only person involved in that trade still on the team he was sent to. On one hand, the Cardinals went on to win the World Series, in part due to the some of the bullpen arms. The old adage of “flags fly forever" is pretty compelling. Did those parts play a large role in the unstoppable machine that was the Cardinals’ World Series run?

Well, Patterson sure didn’t help, posting an OPS+ of 17 in 44 games and being left off the roster, although he was more of a throw-in to balance roster spots and salary. What about the other three?

Jackson bumped reliever-turned-fill-in-starter Kyle McClellan and served as the fourth starter in the playoffs. That meant that, for the stretch run, St. Louis replaced a 4.21 ERA (about an 89 ERA+) with a 3.58 mark (104 ERA+) in 78 innings. Not a bad job (although it is worth noting that the team had 24-year old Lance Lynn-Lynn started two games in 2011 with a 3.12 ERA, and his stats in his full debut next year would more or less match Jackson’s stretch run). In the playoffs, Jackson wasn’t quite as hot, allowing 11 runs in 17.2 innings (a 5.60 ERA), although it didn’t seem to matter for the eventual champs. Jackson would leave as a free agent after that.

Reliever Octavio Dotel also left as a free agent that winter after a solid run with the team. Dotel only pitched 24.2 innings from the trade until the end of the year, but he did have a 3.57 ERA in that time (115 ERA+). His postseason went a little better than E-Jax’s, allowing only four runs (three earned) across 10.1 innings, equating to a 2.61 ERA.

Rzepczynski (or Scrabble, as he came to be known), posted a 3.97 ERA in 22.2 innings down the stretch for the Cardinals in 2011, a barely below league-average mark (95 ERA+). His ERAs have only grown since then, with a 4.24 rate last year over 46.2 innings and a 7.84 ERA in 10.1 innings this year before being demoted to the minors. His 2011 playoff appearances were about the same, with four runs allowed in 8.1 innings (4.32 ERA).

Rasmus, as mentioned, was the big get for Toronto in the deal. He’s finally broken out this year, with 17 home runs and a triple slash of .282/.342/.493 (BA/OBP/SLG). A 125 OPS+ from your center fielder is not a bad deal. However, before that, he was pretty awful. He debuted in Toronto with an abysmal .173/.201/.316 line (37 OPS+), and last year only got it up to an acceptable .223/.289/.400 line (85 OPS+).

For as much as I hated this trade and the thinking behind it, it ultimately looks like it’s come out as a win-win. The Cardinals got the back-end starter and bullpen help they needed, while the Blue Jays got a good piece that just needed a little time to develop. One thing I thought that was interesting to see was the net change in value each team got, so here’s each part of the trade and what they provided in Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference) for their new team:

Cardinals: Edwin Jackson +0.6 WAR
Octavio Dotel +0.2 WAR
Corey Patterson -0.5 WAR
Marc Rzepczynski -0.2 WAR (2011-2013, 0.0 in 2011)

Blue Jays: Trever Miller 0.0 WAR
Brian Tallet -0.4 WAR
P.J. Walters +0.1 WAR
Colby Rasmus +4.6 WAR and counting (-1.0 in 2011; 3.9 WAR so far this year)

Really, this trade had even less impact than I thought. For just 2011, the Cardinals gained 0.3 Wins and lost -1.3, so it was more or less a 1 Win change by way of subtraction. And Rasmus, while good now, would have been dealing with a crowded outfield in St. Louis had he stayed. Overall, though, it was a net loss of about 4.5 wins and counting.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this trade, to be honest. It worked well, but at the same time, trading a 24-year old top prospect feels like it should have netted more than it did. Rasmus was a 24-year-old former top prospect who was worth over a win and a half in 2011 when he was traded; he may have gone in the tank after that for a year and a half, but that doesn’t seem like the type of thing you should expect to happen.

Trading a player with that pedigree who’s still under contract for three-plus years should have netted more than half a year of a good set-up man, a third/fourth-starter, pinch-hitter who can’t hit, and a four-plus ultimately ineffectual lefty specialist. However, as a Cardinal fan, it’s hard to be too upset with how it worked out.

And finally, I looked at the entire string of transactions to date to see how it’s shaped the Cardinals’ roster, since it's interesting to see how players drafted as early as 1993 can still have an effect on the roster two decades later.

1998: Cardinals trade Pablo Ozuna (signed as amateur free agent, 1996), Armando Almanza (drafted 21st round, 1993), and Braden Looper* (drafted 3rd overall, 1996) to Marlins for Edgar Renteria
*Looper would later return to the Cardinals in 2006 to pitch out of the ‘pen for that World Series team.
2004: Edgar Renteria signs with Red Sox; Cardinals receive 28th overall pick in 2005 draft

2005: Cardinals take Colby Rasmus 28th overall

2011: Colby Rasmus traded with Trever Miller (acquired via free agency), Brian Tallet (free agency), and P.J. Walters (drafted 11th round, 2006) for Corey Patterson, Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, and Marc Rzepczynski

2011: Dotel and Jackson leave as free agents; Cardinals receive 52nd and 59th overall picks in 2012 draft

2012: Cardinals take Patrick Wisdom and Steve Bean with those picks

2013: Cardinals trade Marc Rzepczynski to the Indians for minor leaguer Juan Herrera

All three of the prospects resulting from those deals are rather low-level (all between 19 and 21 at the Low-A and Rookie levels), but if any or all of them make the majors, it’ll make an interesting trade tree to trace back.

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