Colby Rasmus was the first-round choice of the Cardinals in 2005. He was Baseball America's #29 overall prospect in 2007, their #5 prospect in 2008, and their #3 prospect in 2009. In his rookie year, he held his own. In his second year, he broke out, hitting .276/.361/.498 as a 23-year-old center fielder. The journey from draft-to-regular is rarely that linear.
A year later, the Cardinals traded him for a starting pitcher who was pending free agent, two relievers, and Corey Patterson. The relievers acquired are in the good-not-great class, as was the starting pitcher, though Corey Patterson has led the league several years running in being Corey Patterson. So Cardinals fans, for the most part, were extremely unhappy. It was a short-sighted move, where the payoff needed to be immediate. Shortly after the trade, the Cardinals fell out of the playoff race, and the chance for an immediate payoff was gone.
But wait! There was still some magic yet in the 2011 season yet -- a chance for Bruce Willis to save Julia Roberts from the gas chamber after all. And as such, the book isn't quite closed on the Rasmus trade just yet. Both of the following can still be true:
- the Rasmus trade was horribly short-sighted, and in the offseason, the Cardinals likely could have received much more than the two relievers they'll have to show for the deal next season
- the 2011 Cardinals are a better team with Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepczynski right now than they would be with Colby Rasmus.
It's still not a binary set. One day, when we look back on the trade, and we know that the Cardinals were bounced on the 162nd day, and that Rasmus became an All-Star several times over, we'll have an idea. Or if Rasmus really is a lunch pail filled with sulfur in the clubhouse, and he never lives up to his promise, this trade might have a clear winner and loser in retrospect.
But the Cardinals have a stronger team without Rasmus. They might not say that next year if Jackson leaves as a free agent, but right now the Cards are stronger than they would have been without Rasmus. Part of that has to do with Jon Jay's ability to produce at something close to Rasmus's level. They didn't lose very much by swapping the two center fielders, but by jettisoning the back of the bullpen and improving the rotation, they're a better team. For now.
So judgment on the trade has to wait. It's still a long-shot for it to look good. Even if the Cardinals make the playoffs, they'll have about a 10 to 12% chance of winning it all, about the same as every other team. The odds are still against Jackson, Dotel, or Rzepczynski being the difference between an early exit and a championship. But considering how bad the trade looked just a month ago, the Cardinals will take the reprieve.