Prior to this season, he was worth over 5 WAR in the major leagues. Heralded as one of the best prospects ever produced by the farm system, he was seen as a fixture in the outfield for seasons to come. The raw athletic ability displayed made him a favorite of scouts and the advanced approach at the plate combined including solid secondary skills made him a favorite of statheads. That is until this season.
His production dropped off. Fielding metrics are less impressed by his defense. While he's been saved in part by the overall offensive decline in the league that still leaves him a slightly above average offensive player, the expectations surrounding the player far surpass the production in 2011. All this despite the impression that bad luck seems to have played a role, possibly significant, in his decline and current slump.
So when are the Braves going to trade Jason Heyward?
Ironic how parallel the situation of Jason Heyward and Colby Rasmus can be when looking purely at the numbers. Heyward, who was worth 5 fWAR for the Braves in 2010, has seen his production drop dramatically in part because of a BABIP that is in the dumps. I've intentionally ignored some of the differences between the two players (Heyward is younger and in his second season, he's rumored to be battling injuries and Heyward was a better overall prospect) but there's a stark contrast in how the media handles the two situations.
Check the Braves blog. See any posts about trading Jason Heyward? How about any comments in the 700 post trade thread? I'll fill you in -- there's zero. How about the local paper? No that seems strangely devoid of trade Jason Heyward articles as well. The Colby Rasmus story, as much as any non-Anthony Reyes story in modern memory, is a function of the media and the fascination with a perceived relationship strain that few have actual insight about. The fans are hungry for information and the media provides it. The story feeds on itself and becomes a caricature of reality but a caricature that can also shape reality.
The teams are dealing with different personalities. Jason Heyward may well be more affable than Colby Rasmus. I'd bet money that Fredi Gonzalez is no Tony LaRussa in the clubhouse. The Braves had a long history under Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz of developing young talent and nurturing it through the big league transition. The Cardinals, frankly, do not. Whether Frank Wren (a Schuerholz disciple) and Fredi Gonzalez will continue that tradition will only be known with time but, not throwing their young star under the media bus is a good start.
As others have mentioned before, part of the undoing of Colby Rasmus in 2011 is expectations. An above average offensive centerfielder with even below average defense is a valuable asset when the player remains under team control. The club, fans and media simply expected more and they aren't wrong to have those expectations. Everyone would be foolish to let those expectations stand in the way of understanding the real value of these players be it Rasmus or Jason Heyward.
The fate of Colby seems a forgone conclusion despite repeated denials by the front office. Then again, it has seemed a foregone conclusion for at least two years now and we find ourselves in the same spot again. The club has a lot of major decisions coming up in the offseason including Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and, the 800-lb gorilla in the room, Albert Pujols. A definitive conclusion to the Colby Rasmus saga might be beneficial for everyone involved.