The Tampa Bay Rays have yet again traded a blue chip name from the club, moving one of their top pitching prospects for a role player that helps 2020 and a prospect who should take on an everyday role in the near future.
The prospect on the move is Matthew Liberatore, the team’s first-round draft pick from 2018 who shockingly fell to the Rays at 16th overall and has since risen to a top-50 prospect in baseball.
The lanky left-hander has a fastball that’s more a kiss to build a dream on than a tongue down the throat, and a curveball that grades up to a 7 when it’s on, but in his limited appearances, he’s had outings where the best version of Libby’s stuff did not show up to play.
No matter which version Liberatore was set to become, his window to compete on the Rays’ roster is potentially three seasons away, where minor league starter is a position of depth for the Rays, particularly after the team hit on Shane & Shane after acquiring Shane Baz in the Chris Archer deal and drafting Shane McClanahan in the same draft as Liberatore.
In return, the Rays will receive Randy Arozarena and José Martínez, with the former being the bigger get.
The St. Louis Cardinals are trading OF Jose Martinez, OF Randy Arozarena and a Compensation A pick (after 1st round) to the Tampa Bay Rays for LHP prospect Matt Liberatore, a low-level catching prospect and Compensation B pick (post-2nd), sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 10, 2020
Arozarena is not a household name but has been an exciting prospect for Cardinals fans to follow after the native of Havana, Cuba barnstormed through the minors across the 2017-2019 seasons.
At 25 in the 2020 season, he appears to be the right-handed version of Mallex Smith for the Rays — able to run into a pitch while keeping his strikeout rates low, overswinging here and there with a bit of over-boogey on the bases, but backing up his aggressiveness with top-tier speed — CBS Sports highlighted Arozarena this offseason and noted 96th percentile speed.
Despite being right-handed, Arozarena projects to a lion’s share of playing time as he covers all three outfield positions, as Mallex Smith and Guillermo Heredia provided the Rays before him, but this time with the upside to develop into something more, even before the end of 2020.
His acquisition has shades of Xavier Edwards, the big get from the Tommy Pham trade, who looks to be a plus defender with an ability to hit but is pre-hype in terms of prospect rankings across the baseball blogging industry. And like that trade, he comes paired with an experience major league piece.
For the Rays, José Martínez represents many balancing aspects for the Rays roster as what you could call a 26th-man role.
Capable and comfortable in a part-time role, Martínez had a career-low year last season but still boasted a 160 wRC+ against lefties, and improving the team’s performance against southpaws was a want (even if not a need) for the 96-win Rays. As an added benefit, he also has a reputation of being a great clubhouse guy, a role some outside the Rays have said the team will need with Heredia signing with the Pirates earlier Thursday.
The full trade includes two more items, a low-level catching prospect going from the Rays to the Cardinals named Edgardo Rodriguez and a draft pick swap. The Rays will exchange their Competitive Balance selection after the second round for the Cardinals’ CB selection after the first round, leaping approximately 30 spots in the 2020 draft.
More to come!