ST. LOUIS -- Locked in a close race and facing significant uncertainty in the coming winter, the Cardinals made a major win-now move on Wednesday.
St. Louis sent center fielder Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays in an eight-player trade that nets the Cardinals pitching help and perhaps three prospects. The Cards received right-handed starter Edwin Jackson, right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel, left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski and outfielder Corey Patterson in the trade.
Headed to Toronto are Rasmus, left-handed relievers Trever Miller and Brian Tallet, and right-hander P.J. Walters. The Cardinals will also receive three players to be named later or cash considerations. Jackson had been traded from Chicago to Toronto earlier in the day as a precursor to the Cards-Jays exchange.
The additions bolster the pitching staff of a club that needed the help, but they come at the cost of a player long believed to have All-Star potential. However, Rasmus' existence in St. Louis was never free of complications, from sky-high expectations to a sometimes challenging relationship with manager Tony La Russa.
Rasmus is under team control through the 2014 season and will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this coming winter. Tallet and Miller are both eligible for free agency this winter, while Walters is likely at least three years away from arbitration or free agency.
who's going where?
A look at which players went where in the three-team, 11-player trade between the Cardinals, Blue Jays and White Sox:
3 PTBNL or cash
By contrast, Jackson and Patterson are eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, while Dotel's contract includes a '12 option worth $3.5 million. Rzepczynski is a third-year pitcher who is not eligible for arbitration until after the '12 season and cannot be a free agent until after the '16 campaign.
"This move was done to definitely support the 2011 club, and we feel it definitely gives us a better chance of winning today," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. "In terms of flexibility for next year, it frankly just adds to it."
Mozeliak repeatedly mentioned the potential payoff in 2012 Draft picks that the Cardinals could receive in the event that Jackson and/or Dotel depart as free agents. The club also sees Rzepczynski as potentially more than a reliever. He pitched reasonably effectively for the Blue Jays as a starter in '09 and '10.
"When we were looking at really how to get a better team this year and still position ourselves where we would get something in return, either having a pitcher we could have under control like we do with the [Rzepczynski], or getting Draft picks, that was the motivation," Mozeliak said.
Rasmus, 24, was the Cards' first-round Draft pick in 2005 and rose quickly through the system, arriving as a heralded prospect for the '09 season. He turned in a solid rookie campaign and took a major step forward offensively in '10, but has slumped for much of this season. Rasmus entered Wednesday with a .246 batting average, a .332 on-base percentage and a .420 slugging percentage, all much closer to his rookie season than his '10.
Additionally, his relationship with the club and with La Russa remained complicated. Rasmus requested a trade during 2010, and as recently as Tuesday, La Russa told a St. Louis television station that Rasmus "doesn't listen to the Cardinal coaches much now."
The combination of factors led to a departure much sooner than many fans would have liked to see. Rasmus fetched a package of players that will help the Cardinals significantly in 2011, but offers little value beyond the current season. Both La Russa and Mozeliak argued strenuously, though, that personality considerations did not drive the deal.
"Maybe you can find a rare, rare exception someplace," La Russa said. "But I have never in my memory ever seen a front office or an ownership pick a manager over a productive pitcher or player. That's ridiculous. You can get a manager anytime, anywhere. If you have a special talent, you don't pick the manager. You don't [say], 'Get on Tony's wrong side and you're out of here.'"
Jackson buttresses the St. Louis starting rotation with a 27-year-old power arm. He's 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA, 97 strikeouts and 39 walks in 121 2/3 innings for Chicago this year. Over the past three seasons, he has a 4.01 ERA for the Tigers, D-backs and White Sox, with 439 strikeouts and 187 walks in 545 innings.
He tossed the second no-hitter in D-backs history on June 25 last year. Jackson is slated to start on Friday for the Cardinals, with Kyle Lohse moving from Friday to Saturday. Kyle McClellan, who had been in the rotation, will move to the bullpen.
Rzepczynski addresses what may have been the Cardinals' greatest area of need. St. Louis' lefties have struggled through most of the season, and he has become a lockdown reliever against left-handed batters. Rzepczynski has held opposing lefties to a .159 average, .247 on-base percentage and .203 slugging percentage this year. Overall, he has a 2.97 ERA in 43 appearances with 33 strikeouts and 15 walks in 39 1/3 innings.
Dotel, 37, offers a strikeout pitcher for the back end of the St. Louis bullpen. He has 106 saves in a 13-year big league career and sports a 3.68 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 12 walks over 29 1/3 innings this season. He has shown an enormous platoon split in recent years, dominating right-handed hitters but being consistently highly vulnerable against lefties.
Patterson brings outfield depth and speed, and occasional power. For the year he's batting .252 with a .287 on-base percentage and a .379 slugging percentage.
"It's a big deal for us, because we addressed a starter, a left-handed reliever and also added some bullpen help," Mozeliak said. "We're very excited about this. These decisions are never easy to make."