The Rays acquired two players from the Cardinals in exchange for left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore and 19-year-old GCL catcher Edgardo Rodriguez. The Rays will be receiving 31-year-old 1B/OF Jose Martinez and 24-year-old center field prospect Randy Arozarena from the Cardinals.
In addition to Martinez and Arozarena, the Rays and Cardinals are swapping Competitive Balance draft picks, with the Rays moving up from Round B (after the second round) to Round A (after the first round), a jump of nearly 30 picks.
Both pre-arbitration players will join the Rays with their own unique sets of skills, and we’ll start by looking at José Martínez.
José Martínez, 1B/OF/DH
The Rays have been interested in José Martínez for quite some time now, dating back to 2017, and seem to have finally got their man. Martínez is a 6-foot-6, right-handed Venezuelan who is known for his bat.
To date, Martínez has a career slash line of .298/.363/.458, good for an OPS of .821 and wRC+ of 122. His splits against lefties really pop off of the page, where he has a career OPS of .976 in 298 PA.
Martínez is known to hit the ball hard, and he has done just that in each of his three full MLB seasons, putting up an impressive career-average exit velocity of 90.0 mph. Martínez has hit ten home runs in each of his three seasons and throughout his career has been worth five wins in a part-time role he’s filled well.
Another one of the reasons the Rays acquired him?
Martínez has a good ability to draw walks, with above-average walk rates in each season that contributes to his .363 career OBP.
The Rays won’t be getting good defense from Martínez, quite the opposite in fact, since he recorded -9 Outs Above Average in the outfield last season — negative! He is better at first base, but still not great with -1 OAA in 2017 and again in 2018, so look for him to get most of his at-bats as the Rays DH or off of the bench, a role he’s comfortable playing in.
Steamer projects Martínez to bounce-back from a career-worst 2019 campaign that saw him slash .269/.340/.410 with a 101 wRC+ in 373 P, with a far improved slash of .280/.346/.440 over 243 PA, good for a 108 wRC+ and closer to his career rates.
The Rays clearly believe in Martínez’s bat being more like his career numbers, and they have for a while. It’s hard to blame the Rays for betting on big exit velocities from a righty with a decent track record going into 2020 and onward. Martínez will make $2 million in 2020 and will be arbitration eligible again in 2021 and 2022.
The other player the Rays acquired does not have the same track record, but is one of St. Louis’ top 10 prospects.
Randy Arozarena, CF
Ranked 10th in the Cardinals’ farm system by MLB Pipeline, the 5-foot-11 right-handed-hitting outfielder from Havana, Cuba is the more intriguing piece of this deal.
With 23 MLB career plate appearances (and three more in the NLDS), the Rays are acquiring a young prospect that is known best for his elite speed. At 29.4 feet/second, Arozarena will join Kevin Kiermaier as the fastest players on the Rays.
In 2017, Arozarena put his elite speed on display when he hit an infield triple (well, almost, but it was ruled an error) in Double-A against the Midland RockHounds.
Arozarena’s MLB exit velocity in 2019 averaged 90.7 mph, but with only 16 batted balls, that number should not be taken at face value. Instead, his 15 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019 should do the talking. While not known as a prospect with power, Arozarena has shown ability to hit line drives and stretch them into extra-base-hits while in the minors.
When he does hit the ball in the air, Arozarena has shown some sneaky raw power to his pull side, and he hit all 12 of his home runs to left field in 2018. - MLB Pipeline
Since 2017, Arozarena has a career OPS of 1.004 against lefties in the minors, spanning over 300 PA’s. The Cardinals’ outfield is full of young players and finding Arozarena time was going to be difficult for them in 2020, making him expendable.
“A strong spring put Arozarena in mind with the big league staff, and the team has long viewed him as a fourth or fifth outfielder in the majors. Now they’re seeing even more.” - Derrick Goold, July 30, 2019, BaseballAmerica
The Rays can play Arozarena in any outfield position, such as in center to give Kiermaier a day off or send him to Triple-A Durham, but we will see that decision made towards the end of Spring Training. He should become an everyday player as he progresses in his career. Arozarena will be a pre-arbitration player for the foreseeable future.
Both players acquired by the Rays should be on the Major League roster in 2020, and the Rays believe in the both of them, because they gave up a really good prospect to acquire Martínez and Arozarena, trading an industry-wide respected name for two players most wouldn’t see coming.