Colby Rasmus and the Manager's Job

This trade is the direct result of Tony La Russa's failure to do his job.

I'm not saying Tony La Russa should be fired--baseball is a game where everybody fails 60% of the time etc. etc.--but Tony La Russa's failure is what led the Cardinals to make a trade that will, pending the players to be named later being named, almost certainly make them worse in 2012 and 2013.

Tony La Russa is a manager, and as we decide that more and more of the things for which a manager is explicitly and visibly responsible--lineups, pitcher moves, hit-and-runs and sacrifice bunts--are so much deck-chair redecoration the pre-John-McGraw definition of a manager as somebody who manages a bunch of baseball players and their personalities becomes more and more important.

Sometimes La Russa gets it right. Jim Edmonds, something of a clubhouse enigma before he arrived in St. Louis, put together a Hall of Fame peak after he turned 30; Chris Carpenter, with his paranoid on-field personality and perpetual intensity, seems to have been born to play under La Russa.

Sometimes La Russa gets it wrong but circumstances allow his team to extract sufficient value from the situation. Ray Lankford shouldn't have been pushed out of St. Louis when he was, but Woody Williams fit the team and Dave Duncan's gameplan and had a great career, while Lankford had already been pushed to left in favor of J.D. Drew. J.D. Drew shouldn't have become a Busch Stadium pariah, but he was about to be an expensive free agent and the Cardinals did get Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright in the deal.

This time La Russa got it so wrong so consistently that the Cardinals have made themselves clearly worse when they had other, better options. He dogged Rasmus in 2010, when he was having a great year; he dogged him in 2011, when he was having an okay year; he forced Mozeliak's hand--for once this can be confirmed, or at least reasonably inferred--by making utterly inappropriate, inessential comments to the press about a player that was crucial to the team's long-term blueprints.

Colby Rasmus and Tony La Russa didn't get along, but it was La Russa's job--his most important job--to make sure that that didn't interfere with the Cardinals' success. He couldn't do it--didn't even seem to want to do it--and all the good work La Russa has done with a perpetually depleted roster in 2011 was wiped away with this one stubborn indiscretion.

As for the move itself, I'd rather have had one of the Rays' young, cost-controlled starters, but as win-now trades go it's got a certain unpleasant elegance to it, like a Bond villain who's a very charming ballroom dancer. Edwin Jackson replaces Kyle McClellan; Kyle McClellan, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepczynski replace P.J. Walters, Brian Tallet, and Trever Miller. Corey Patterson--well, Corey Patterson is still a terrible baseball player, and should be replaced at the Cardinals' earliest convenience by a real fourth outfielder, ideally a right-handed one. (Yes: I realize that saying this out loud the day after the Rasmus trade is the Shane Robinson equivalent of shouting Beetlejuice three times without realizing the long-term ramifications.)

The Cardinals' pitching staff is considerably better than it was on Tuesday, and if Jay and Lance Berkman continue to pick up the slack the Cardinals just introduced into their own offense that should translate into a less frustrating 2011. But I'm not sure where the Cardinals saw the outfield depth that allowed them to make this move.

Behind Jay now are Adron Chambers and Daryl Jones, two toolsy outfield tweeners who have never shown off an obvious Major League-ready offensive skill, and behind them there's Tommy Pham, who can't stay healthy, and Oscar Taveras, who's incredibly exciting but also 19 years old. Behind Lance Berkman there's those same guys, Allen Craig, and any of the Cardinals' various hitting prospects and near-prospects playing out of position: Matt Carpenter? Mark Hamilton? Matt Adams? Zack Cox?

If Jon Jay and Lance Berkman aren't kind enough to remember they're having career years for the remainder of 2011 this is no longer an unequivocal upgrade, even in 2011.

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