Jeff Luhnow has been in charge of 4 drafts to date beginning in 2005. During that time, it’s hard to argue that any has been as singularly successful as the first which provided 3 of the top 4 position players (Rasmus, Anderson, Jones) in the farm system and, prior to a balky elbow, the top pitching prospect (Garcia). While the farm system is certainly more well regarded than anytime in recent memory, the fruition of those labors has yet to fully materialize.
The media in St. Louis has perpetuated the notion that the farm system has become an end in and of itself rather than a system to enhance the major league team. Notions, however misguided or not, that the club would rather hoarde prospects rather than making a trade to upgrade the team in the near term abound. The pressure will mount during the offseason for the Cardinals to make a real and tangible upgrade to the team, likely via trade. Questions will be raised about the value of “unproven prospects” versus a “veteran”. Vagueries and unquantifiable qualities will be attributed to both parties over the winter. Fans will agree and disagree but the commotion is likely to be loud.
A lot of the discussion has and will continue to surround Colby Rasmus, the Cardinals’ top prospect for 3 years running. Can he contribute at the major league level? Was 2008 a fluke or a sign that he’s over-rated by prsopecniks drinking the Cardinal propaganistic kool-aid? What can he garner in a trade? Should we trade him? Does TLR hate him? Does Rasmus hate the ballclub? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsiepop?
Regardless of the immediate ramifications of the discussion during the offseason, Luhnow (and the Cardinals’ front office as a whole) might want to be careful about the framework they deliver the “prospects are good for you” message. They risk creating, if they haven’t already, a litmus test with Colby as the thin colored strip of paper and TLR’s Cardinal team as the solvent. The discussion, to date, has been less about the farm system as a whole and more about what potential that Colby Rasmus has. Players like Chris Perez and Jason Motte can and will help mitigate this myopic view of the farm system but it’s possible that the idea is ingrained deeper than a few relievers can expunge.
Should Colby Rasmus fail, especially in an undeniable and spectacular way, it is likely to widen several rifts surrounding the organization. The fanbase will feel, wrongly, misled and return to the mantra that the club is “cheap”. It’s also possible that TLR will be emboldened by the collapse and renew pressure for a “proven” commodity. We’re still just a year removed from Walt Jocketty being fired — remember that, he was F-I-R-E-D — due to internal schisms within the organization. The belief that those schisms are healed by a single personnel move is naive. The failure of the system’s top prospect would likely re-ignite the same disagreements that caused turmoil within the front office and fodder for local writers.
None of these are a justifiable reason for trading Rasmus during the offseason if the club truly assesses his value as a future perennial all-star. They are, however, reasons that can be used to rationalize a “cover your a__” trade in an attempt to quell the “prospects are useless”/”win now” crowd. Rightly or wrongly, Rasmus has come to symbolize the prospect strategy of the new regime.
Rightly or wrongly, this has repercussions.