Nationals Trade Idea: Colby Rasmus

Steve O Speak

Now let me first say that I’m a bit skeptical that Cardinals CF Colby Rasmus is available on the trade market, but since the rumors persist, the Nationals need to do their due diligence. Rasmus is one of the best young players in baseball and could be a cornerstone for the Nationals going forward. Given his talent, youth, cost and team control he’s going to cost quite a bit in player return. Here is a deal that I think could work for both sides:

The Trade: The Nationals receive CF Colby Rasmus and 1B/OF Allen Craig from the Cardinals in return for OF Josh Willingham, C Derek Norris (A+), CF Nyjer Morgan, LHP John Lannan, RHP Brad Peacock (AA), 2B Jeff Kobernus (A-)

Why It Makes Sense For The Nationals: Now I know Nationals at first glance would be horrified with any trade that included Willingham, Norris and Lannan, but in reality this is a great trade for Washington. Rasmus is a true 5-tool player, and gives great offensive production from the center field spot. His defense may not be as good as Morgan was when the Nats first acquired him (honestly who could be), but it should be very good overall. Rasmus and Zimmerman would give the Nationals the impact offensive players they need going forward.

In addition to Rasmus, the Nationals would receive Craig a versatile and capable 1B/OF. Some might be quick to label Craig as a AAAA player or a platoon guy, but I think he deserves a long look with the Nationals. He has put up impressive minor league numbers, but has no shot of breaking in with the Cardinals with Pujols and Holliday in front of him. Since he is not a top prospect and a bit older, it makes sense for the Cardinals to trade him now while he still can offer value. He very well could flame out, but I think a change of scenery and an everyday job could be just what he needs to reach his potential.

If the Nationals can get Rasmus and Craig without having to give up either of their young middle infielders, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, or young SP Jordan Zimmermann they should be very happy. It is a high price and some of the back-end pieces might need to be switched around, but it is well worth it.

Why It Makes Sense For The Cardinals: While trading Rasmus is a tough pill to swallow for St. Louis, it makes sense to do it now while his value is still at an all-time high, instead of waiting for the Rasmus-LaRussa feud to kill his worth. While Cardinals fans might not love this trade idea from the start it is probably better than they realize.

Josh Willingham, might not wow St. Louis, but he has more value then most people realize. Now Willingham’s health is an issue as he isn’t really one to be counted on for more that 135-145 games. If he does play a full season it is possible that he will be in the upper 4’s – low 5’s in WAR. Now the drawback to Willingham is that he is in the last year of Arbitration, but that is still good value for the Cardinals as they look to win the pennant this year. Even if he is gone a year from now, the Cardinals will receive draft picks if he can maintain his Type-A status. The other issues with Willingham, would be that he would make the Cardinals a very right-handed dominated lineup, and concern for his defense in RF. Although it is a bit of an issue to have your top three bats (Pujols, Holliday, and Willingham) all right-handed, these three it really doesn’t seem to matter. All of them kill left-handed pitching, and Pujols has a career OPS against righties that is over 1.000, while Holliday is actually better against right-handers than left-handers. Willingham’s numbers are a bit down but he is still over .825 OPS for his career. So maybe against some of the league’s best righties you stick a left-handed batter in there and push Willingham down to the 6th hole, but overall that is a great heart of the lineup. As for his defensive struggles, LF is by far his best position, but Willingham should be at least passable in RF.

Norris is the other headliner in this deal for the Cardinals as he is one of the best young catchers in the game, despite his numbers at High-A this year. Norris will be just 22 next and has excellent plate discipline and an excellent hitter. He has never had (in full season ball) an on-base percentage lower than .413 or a wOBA lower than .391 (exceptional for anyone, particularly a catcher). Right now he is receiving high praise from the Arizona Fall League and should be somewhere in the 20-35 range on most prospect charts this year. He might be expendable to the Nationals, since they acquired Wilson Ramos, but don’t take that to mean he is a bad prospect. His defense is still a work in progress, but the Cardinals can have him learn from Molina, the best defensive catcher in the game.

While Nyjer Morgan took a step back, both statistically and professionally, he still offers good value for the Cardinals. Despite being older, he has 4 years remaining of team control including one at the minimum price. He is among the leagues fastest players, and he can be deadly on the basepaths. Morgan is also just one year removed from posting a 4.9 WAR (mainly because of exceptional defense) in just 120 games. Morgan might never be on that level again, but if he gets it together he could be an adequate replacement for Rasmus in CF, and will give the Cardinals exceptional defense.

John Lannan has a ton of sentimental value to the Nationals, since he is the only semi-legit pitcher they have had over the past couple of seasons. And while he has remained one of their top arms, he profiles more as a 4 or 5. That fits perfectly for what the Cardinals are looking for as their top three rotation spots are set. They have tried to cobble together the bottom of their rotation with mostly disastrous results. Lannan doesn’t have great upside, but he has been very solid and consistent. He is still young and affordable (just entering arbitration), and could only improve with the tutelage of Dave Duncan, the Cards pitching coach. Lannan is also a lefty, which would be a nice change of pace for a very right-handed rotation.

As for the prospects Brad Peacock and Jeff Kobernus, they could easily be changed out if say the Cardinals want a Chris Marrero or Cole Kimball instead. Peacock is the better one of the two, and might be a diamond in the rough for St. Louis. He will be 23 next season, and will need a full year in Double-A, but he is an up-and-coming young pitcher. He has a big time fastball, and is still refining his secondary pitches, but should be ready for the big leagues within two years. At best he profiles as a solid 3rd starter, and at the very least his fastball should allow him to pitch out of the back of a bullpen. Kobernus did not have a great first full season with the Nationals, but he has the prospect profile of an average everyday second baseman. Although he is still 3 years away, middle infield is an organizational black hole for the Cardinals.

Overall: This might not be the final iteration of the deal, but I think it works for both sides in terms of value. While the Cardinals might want a bit more, or even some money to offset Willingham’s and Lannan’s arbitration numbers, this is good value for them. Willingham, Lannan and Morgan all improve this team for next season. Even if Willingham walks, Lannan and Morgan still give the Cards plenty of team control. Norris is a legit blue-chip prospect (despite not being as well-known), and Peacock is another good value as well. The Nationals would get two young outfielders, including Rasmus, whom they can build around. It’s a steep price to pay, and could cut into their ability to make a deal for a starter, but it is worth the risk to acquire a great young talent.

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