Yesterday was a bit of a crazy day, as the Rays and Cardinals completed a trade that was surprising to say the least. Now that all the details have been made public, we can analyze how this trade affects the two parties.
Yesterday afternoon, it was reported that Rays LHP prospect Matthew Liberatore was headed to St. Louis in a trade that involved MLB players. The full trade was the Cardinals sending IF/OF Jose Martinez, OF Randy Arozarena and a Competitive Balance A pick to Tampa for Liberatore, minor league C Edgardo Rodriguez and a Competitive Balance B pick.
Let’s look at each piece involved in this trade:
Jose Martinez might be one of the most divisive players in baseball, thanks to his poor defensive numbers but solid stats at the plate. Martinez’ fielding may not be much of a concern, as he now heads to the Rays, where he can slot in as the either the team’s DH or 1B. The 31-year old burst on to the scene in 2017, putting up a slash line of .309/.379/.518 across 106 games. The Venezuelan native followed 2017 up with an impressive 2018, finishing in the top 25 in the NL in hits, batting average and OPS.
However, 2019 wasn’t as successful for Martinez, as he played 24 less games than in 2018, and his OPS dropped 70 points. Despite the off season for Martinez, this pickup has quite a bit of upside for the Rays, as the 31-year old can slot in at 1B (his best position in the field) or DH, rather than playing in the outfield (where he was primarily used as a Cardinal). And considering that he gets on base at a good clip, this a very saavy and sabermetric-minded pickup for the Rays, something that they do quite often.
Signed out of Mexico by the Cardinals in 2016, Randy Arozarena made his MLB debut three years after being signed. Arozarena was signed as a highly touted Cuban expat, but stumbled at times over his first two seasons in the Minors. 2019, though, was a breakthrough season for the Cuban native, as he batted .344 across two levels (AA and AAA), along with a 1.003 OPS. Arozarena also played 19 games with the Cardinals, batting .300 in the short sample size.
There’s a lot of upside with Arozarena, as he’s a very toolsy player with a lot of athleticism. The Cuban native has decent power along with a swing and bat path that should allow him to pound pitches on the lower half of the zone. However, he is rather pull-heavy, meaning he’ll be shifted on quite a bit at the MLB level. Arozarena has also displayed some prowess on the basepaths, stealing at least 15 bases in his last three seasons. As far as the hit tool is concerned, he can definitely hit for contact, but his GO/AO rates suggest he gets on top of the ball quite a bit.
I like this pickup for the Rays, as they’re getting an outfielder who has upside and may be able to crack their roster this year. But, was it worth the cost to get him and Martinez?
Liberatore was projected by some to be the first prep pitcher off the board in 2018, but slipped to the Rays at #16. A powerful lefty who boasts two nice breaking balls (slider and curve) along with a low to mid-90’s fastball and a change, Liberatore has the potential to be one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, but he still has some work to do. The Arizona native has done a nice job thus far in his career in striking out batters (9.16 career K/9) and inducing ground balls (1.4 career GO/AO rate), but the walk rates are still a bit high (3.58 career BB/9).
Liberatore has a ton of talent, and he has the potential to have two or three plus pitches once it all comes together. Which begs the question: why would the Rays give up the lefty? Sure, Tampa has a strong farm system and could give up a top prospect to fill some holes, but was this right move? Only time will tell.
When The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal reported that a minor league catcher would be involved, I assumed it would have been Chris Betts. A former second-round pick by the Rays in 2015, Betts has some of the best raw power in the minors. It wasn’t Betts, as the Cardinals also picked up 19-year old Edgardo Rodriguez in the deal. If you’ve never heard of Rodriguez, I wouldn’t blame you, as the Venezuelan native has only played 10 games in North America (all in the GCL).
Rodriguez spent most of last season on the IL, but he had a very nice season in 2018 in the Dominican Summer League. The 19-year old had a .330 AVG, .876 OPS, and hit 18 XBH in 51 games in the DSL. Rodriguez is a lottery ticket, someone who could blossom into a talented player or fall flat on his face in the Minors. More teams have been willing to take chances and acquire players in the lower-levels of the Minors in recent years, and the payoffs have been quite nice on some occasions (think of Fernando Tatis Jr.). And the Cardinals have taken a chance on Rodriguez in this deal.
Who won this trade?
Even though most people (including myself) thought the Cardinals won this deal right away, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The Rays may not have gotten a superstar back for Liberatore, but Tampa did get a solid MLB player along with a toolsy prospect who can turn into a solid player. Tampa also received the Cardinals’ Competitive Balance A pick, meaning the Rays moved up about 40 picks (since they gave up their CBB pick) and acquired more bonus money in the process. This could become quite handy, especially if they can draft a highly-touted player who may fall in this year’s draft. The Rays did exactly this in 2019, when they used some of their leftover money to sign J.J. Goss, one of the top prep pitchers available.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, add a top prospect without giving up a key player in their farm system or off their roster. Sure, Jose Martinez is a talented hitter, but he didn’t have much of a place with St. Louis. And if the rumors of the Cardinals wanting to add Nolan Arenado are true, then Liberatore could be used in a potential deal for the All-Star third baseman.
If I had to pick a winner of this deal, I’d still go with the Cardinals, because of the potential moves they can now make as a result. But Tampa didn’t make out too bad in this deal, especially if they can draft a player who has just as much as Liberatore. What do you think about this trade? Let us know, and be sure to keep checking out the FH Freeway site more news, reports and fantasy news.