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Trade Retrospective: Cardinals acquire Edwin Jackson, send Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays

The Cardinals sold very low on Rasmus, and it worked out because they’re the Cardinals.

GAIL BURTON/AP

For the second straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

Near the trade deadline in 2011, the Cardinals addressed a need in the starting rotation by trading Colby Rasmus to Toronto in order to acquire Edwin Jackson. The Blue Jays acquired him from the White Sox just hours beforehand in exchange for Mark Teahen, Jason Frasor, and Zach Stewart.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will still be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades because anybody can get lucky. Process over results. For this particular article, I will be focusing on the major players involved between the Cardinals and Blue Jays. That being said, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for all parties involved.

The Deal

The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery in spring training of 2011. Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, and Jaime García were pitching well, but Kyle McClellan and Jake Westbrook were not. In the first half of 2011, those two combined for a 5.28 RA9. At the time, the team was in a tight divisional race with the Brewers. The Cardinals needed help badly.

Enter Edwin Jackson. He had an unremarkable 3.94 RA9 since joining the White Sox the year prior, but that was still a lot better than what the Cardinals were getting from the back of their rotation. He did have a better looking 3.22 FIP. Considering the replacement-level performance he would be replacing, a two-win upgrade was a reasonable projection of the Cardinals’ improvement. Seeing as how close the NL Central race was at the time, those two wins could have been very impactful, and it helped make up for the fact that Jackson was just a rental. He went into free agency that offseason.

However, that projection does not take into account parting ways with Colby Rasmus. He was worth 3.6 rWAR the year before, and though his offense had regressed in 2011, he was on pace for a three-win season. At the time, he was still considered to have the potential to be a star. This is how ESPN’s Keith Law described him:

“He's a plus runner with good range in center who needs to work on his reads, shows good bat speed and has average to above-average power and a very good approach at the plate.“

It was well known at the time that Rasmus was not getting along with the coaching staff, even going so far as to forgo working with hitting coach Mark McGwire in favor of his father. It had clearly gotten to the point that the Cardinals felt that they either had to get rid of Rasmus or their future Hall of Fame manager, Tony La Russa. You can argue that a potential star is worth more than a manager — you really can — but no team would fire an all-time great skipper for somebody who has performed no better than an above-average player.

With Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Allen Craig, the Cardinals had enough outfield depth to absorb the loss of Rasmus in the short term. They also bolstered their bullpen in the process by obtaining Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, the latter of whom is the ultimate journeyman. He played for 13 teams in his 15-year career.

Colby Rasmus was a high price to pay for half a season of a good starting pitcher and two relievers. No team would have made this deal had Rasmus and the coaching staff gotten along with each other. We will never know exactly how much of the blame lies with Rasmus and how much lies with the coaching staff. I do know that if I were GM John Mozeliak and believed that any of my direct reports were even partially responsible for my having to trade our best homegrown position player since Albert Pujols, I would be pretty ticked off.

It was clear that if Rasmus would ever be a star, it would not be in St. Louis. Trading him away despite his upside was the best decision for both sides. The Blue Jays acquired a center fielder who was actually productive in exchange for three relievers and Corey Patterson, a sub-replacement level center fielder who ended up finishing his career that season in St. Louis. The Blue Jays even tried playing — I kid you not — Travis Snider in center field before Rasmus came along.

Colby Rasmus provided the Blue Jays with the possibility of multiple years of cheap control of an above-average player, with the upside for much more. They smartly leveraged the animosity between Rasmus and his coaches to get a great deal. The Blue Jays were out of it when they acquired him, but the team had promise, and Rasmus could have provided them with the opportunity to break their long postseason drought.

At the time, it looked like the Blue Jays scored big and the Cardinals screwed up and overpaid. The outcomes were much different.

The Results

If you are a Cardinals fan who has been chuckling throughout the criticisms of this deal, I don’t blame you one bit. They did not end up winning the division, but...

The Cardinals went on to win the the freakin’ World Series.

The irony is that the Cardinals went all the way despite Edwin Jackson. He was only worth 0.6 WAR over the last two months of the season. Worse still, he was terrible in the playoffs — he had a 5.60 RA9 over his four postseason starts, walking nine batters and striking out only 12. Octavio Dotel ended up being the most impactful player that the Cardinals received. He had a 3.56 RA9 in the postseason in 10.1 IP. He struck out 14 batters while walking just two.

Here is a list of how the players panned out for the Cardinals.

Cardinals Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Edwin Jackson 0 0.6 $2.92
Octavio Dotel 0 0.2 $1
Marc Rzepczynski 4 -0.2 $1.38
Corey Patterson 0 -0.4 $0.30
Total 4 0.2 $5.60
Salaries are approximated for partial seasons. All data are just from time spent on the Cardinals.

Other than Dotel’s postseason performance, the trade did very little to help the Cardinals. At least the money spent was low. Rzepczynski was the only one who would remain with the team in 2012; he got traded to Cleveland in 2013.

Teams feared Jackson’s inconsistency over his career, so free agency treated him poorly. He ended up taking a one-year pillow contract with the Nationals for 2012; he then parlayed a mediocre year into a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs. It was a disaster, and one of the few bad decisions made by Theo Epstein. After a little over two seasons of -3.3 WAR, he was flat-out cut by the team. He bounced around a bit and is currently a free agent.

The results for the Blue Jays are much simpler. They did also acquire P.J. Walters, Trever Miller, and Brian Tallet in the trade, but they barely played for the team.

Blue Jays Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Colby Rasmus 3 6.6 $14.52
P.J. Walters 4 0.1 $0.14
Trever Miller 0 0 $0.14
Brian Tallet 0 -0.4 $0.14
Total 7 6.3 $14.93
Salaries are approximated for partial seasons. All data are just from time spent on the Blue Jays.

We will never know how Rasmus would have performed had he stayed on the Cardinals for the entire season, or until he hit free agency. We do know that Jon Jay was fine as a replacement for 2011. I estimate he was worth approximately 1 WAR over the last two months of the season.

I am sure that Rasmus could not have been more motivated after getting traded in 2011. It is hard to fathom how he could have been that motivated and perform so badly. You have to be a special kind of bad to turn in -1 WAR over two months. He basically hit like a pitcher, hitting .173/.201/.316.

Rasmus has been an average player for the rest of his career through 2015, except for 2013 when for one season he turned into the player that scouts believed he could be. Unfortunately, his offense declined in 2016 to a poor line of .206/.286/.355. He just signed a deal with the Rays, the terms of which have not been disclosed as of the writing of this article. It has been reported that they intend to platoon him in a corner outfield spot.

The Blue Jays paid so little that is hard to say that it still did not work out for them. Still, I am sure they were disappointed. As for the Cardinals, it was basically a wash, and maybe even a net negative given how poorly Jackson performed in the playoffs. At the end of the day, though, flags fly forever.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.