The St. Louis Cardinals have a franchise-altering decision to make at the end of this season. First baseman Albert Pujols is due to be a free agent and there's little doubt he could command one of the largest contracts in history, if salary depended solely on playing ability.
It doesn't, as Vernon Wells' contract illustrates, but whichever team wins the bidding for "the great Pujols," as he's referred to in Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August, will be a lot lighter in the pockets after the deal is signed.
This is why reports that the Cardinals are shopping troubled centerfielder Colby Rasmus are puzzling. Many expect Pujols to re-sign with St. Louis at less than market value, but his contract will still be massive. The Cardinals will need all the low-priced talent they can get.
The motivation behind trading Rasmus starts with his .245 batting average this season, with 31 extra-base hits in 335 at-bats. But the Cardinals wouldn't look to trade a $400,000 per year player because he's underachieving. Even in a down season, a 24-year-old multi-tool player who batted .276 with 23 home runs last season is worth at least a few hundred grand, by baseball standards.
What the Cardinals seem eager to trade away isn't Rasmus himself, but his father, Tony Rasmus, if published reports are accurate. Those reports state Tony Rasmus has written on message boards that his son should be traded, and that the Cardinals feel Tony Rasmus has tampered by giving Colby hitting advice that conflicted with that of the Cardinals' coaches.
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa repeatedly has said he has no problem with Rasmus or his father. If that's so, the only logical argument for trading Rasmus is that the Cards have in place a can't-miss deal that hasn't been publicized. And no, a trade for San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell does not qualify.
Marriages between players and teams have broken up before over personal differences. Look no farther than the Red Sox' decisions to ship out Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 and Manny Ramirez in 2008.
Those were highly paid stars, however, who could have damaged the morale of the locker room. Rasmus is a third-year big leaguer who has yet to approach his prime. In short, he's the type of player a smart team keeps around.
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