Tony La Russa looks at Colby Rasmus and probably sees this:
I look at Rasmus and see a 24-year-old center fielder whose on-base and slugging percentages are both above the NL average for 2011, a guy with talent, a sweet swing and a good eye at the plate.
At this point in his career, Rasmus has played 348 big league games. He was one of the better center fielders in baseball last year, although La Russa platooned him some against left-handed pitchers. He's hit 50 home runs in 1,437 plate appearances with a career line of .258/.344/.444. He struck out a lot last season -- but drew plenty of walks -- and has cut his strikeout rate this year. He's had much publicized conflicts with La Russa and Cardinals management about getting hitting advice from his father, leading to him being one of the more interesting trade rumors.
But how good is Rasmus? Are the slumping numbers just that -- a slump? A sign of a guy who will forever battle inconsistency at the plate?
I looked up some similar players to Rasmus: center fielders since 1980 who played between 250 and 600 games through their age-24 season. Here are the 11 with the best OPS+ figure and how they fared from ages 25 to 30.
The last two names are interesting. That's the risk of trading a guy like Rasmus. In my mind, there's still a chance he could develop like a Carlos Beltran or Bernie Williams -- into one of the best players in the game over the next six seasons. Rasmus may need a change of scenery for that happen, but I see the Cardinals selling low on a premium talent if they trade him now. As frustrated as La Russa is with Rasmus, isn't it the manager's job to get the most out of a player?