The Cardinals possessed a glut of major-league caliber position players and the Rays found themselves in dire need of additional big-league depth. Here’s the full deal:
Rays acquired 1B/DH Jose Martinez, OF Randy Arozarena and a Competitive Balance Round A draft pick (No. 38 overall) from the Cardinals in exchange for LHP Matthew Liberatore, C Edgardo Rodriguez and a Competitive Balance Round B draft pick (No. 66 overall).
It’s a fascinating deal for both franchises, especially since it revolves around Liberatore -- the 16th overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft -- who’s universally regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. The 20-year-old southpaw recorded a 3.10 ERA with a 76/31 K/BB ratio over 78 1/3 innings for Low-A Bowling Green last season. He misses plenty of bats and displays above-average command of his four-pitch repertoire. Liberatore may be several hyperspace jumps away from contributing at the major-league level, but he’s instantly one of the top prospects in the Cardinals’ system and projects as a solid mid-rotation starter in the future.
Sure, pitching prospects are inherently risky long-term investments. However, Liberatore represents a worthwhile gamble for the Cardinals, especially since they gave up a pair of position players -- Martinez and Arozarena -- who were extremely unlikely to garner significant playing time this season. Clearly, the Rays were willing to pay an exorbitant price to acquire a pair of remarkably cheap, big-league caliber role players that provide much-needed organizational depth and flexibility moving forward; especially after they made the shocking decision to ship veteran right fielder Tommy Pham to the Padres last month.
From a fantasy standpoint, Martinez and Arozarena should benefit from clearer paths to consistent at-bats in the future. However, the Rays’ platoon-heavy philosophy and the cavernous, power-suppressing dimensions of Tropicana Field seem likely to cap their potential ceilings, limiting their appeal to deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats. Unfortunately, the deal does virtually nothing to shore up the Cardinals’ outfield logjam. There’s been zero clarity on how the organization plans to distribute playing time between Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill and Dexter Fowler this season. Perhaps there is another trade (or two) still to come this offseason, but unless that happens, it's difficult to invest fully in a follow-up campaign from Edman or potential breakout from either Bader or O’Neill.
Frankly, it’s shocking that it took this long for the Rays to get their hands on Martinez. The late-blooming, lefty-mashing, versatile corner outfielder’s skillset meshes perfectly with their organizational approach on so many levels. After spending nearly a decade in minor-league purgatory, Martinez established himself as a viable big-league option with the Cardinals back in 2017. Over the last three seasons, he’s recorded a robust .296/.361/.458 triple-slash line with 41 home runs across 1,270 plate appearances. A certifiable on-base machine and perfect part-time complementary piece, the 31-year-old veteran will likely open the 2020 campaign as a lefty-mashing platoon partners for Ji-Man Choi and Yoshi Tsutsugo at first base and designated hitter, respectively. There isn’t a ton of fantasy upside here, but Martinez should provide a batting average boost and double-digit home runs this season. He’s a viable late-round insurance policy in deeper mixed leagues and a starting-caliber outfielder in AL-only formats.
Arozarena is unquestionably the most intriguing long-term piece for the Rays (and fantasy owners as well) in this deal. The 24-year-old outfielder made significant improvements at the plate last season, recording a sublime .344/.431/.571 triple-slash line with 15 homers and 17 steals in 92 games between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis in the Cardinals’ minor-league system. He also didn’t look overmatched at the major-league level, recording an .890 OPS across 23 plate appearances after a late-season call-up. He’s a strong candidate to begin the impending 2020 campaign at Triple-A Durham, but he’s expected to compete for a fourth-outfielder spot this spring. He may not be a mixed-league option in re-draft formats this spring, but he deserves to be on the fantasy radar as a potential in-season waiver wire pickup. If he reaches his offensive ceiling, Arozarena has the potential to consistently hit for a high batting average, pop 10-to-15 home runs and steal plenty of bases as well. It’s not a prolific fantasy superstar-caliber skillset, simply because he still needs to put more batted balls in the air and become a more efficient base stealer. Yet, there’s still plenty of time for him to evolve into a valuable low-cost, five-category contributor in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats moving forward; especially if he eventually blossoms into an everyday player with the Rays.
One More With Lindor?
Indians president Chris Antonetti put an end to the persistent trade rumors centered around shortstop Francisco Lindor by telling reporters Wednesday that he expects him to remain with the club leading into the 2020 campaign. “I have never had a different expectation other than Francisco will be our shortstop Opening Day,” said Antonetti. “That was my expectation as the season ended. That’s still my expectation as I’m sitting here today.” The 26-year-old superstar has been at the epicenter of various reports connecting him to potential deals with the Dodgers, Reds, and Padres, among other teams. However, it ultimately appears that the Indians were unable to find a trade partner that would satisfy their justifiably considerable demands. From a financial standpoint, the Indians’ downward trajectory has been one of the offseason’s most puzzling offseason storylines, especially when their rather conspicuous cost-cutting decisions -- most notably shipping right-hander Corey Kluber to the Rangers and exploring a potential Lindor trade -- have been juxtaposed by numerous high-profile acquisitions from the division-rival White Sox over the last few weeks.
American League Quick Hits: Astros acquired RHP Austin Pruitt from the Rays for RHP Peyton Battenfield and OF Cal Stevenson … White Sox officially signed 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion to a one-year, $12 million contract with a $12 million club option for 2021 … Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com tweeted Thursday that a reunion between the Red Sox and 1B Mitch Moreland is looking more likely … Yankees signed C Chris Iannetta to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Yankees signed free agent RHP Nick Tropeano to a minor league contract … Rangers signed RHP Luis Garcia and LHP James Jones to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training … Tigers acquired C Eric Haase from the Indians for cash considerations, designated RHP Dario Agrazal for assignment and sent INF/OF Brandon Dixon outright to Triple-A Toledo … Red Sox sent 1B/OF Sam Travis outright to Triple-A Pawtucket … Orioles sent RHP Marcos Diplan outright to Triple-A Norfolk … Rangers sent RHP Jimmy Herget outright to Triple-A Nashville … Astros designated RHP Dean Deetz for assignment … White Sox designated LHP Kodi Medeiros for assignment.
National League Quick Hits: Brewers signed manager Craig Counsell to a three-year contract extension, which will keep him at the helm through the 2023 campaign … Brewers’ OF Christian Yelich (knee) told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy Thursday that he expects to be 100 percent for spring training … Diamondbacks agreed to terms with free agent RHP Hector Rondon on a one-year, $3 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2021 …Pirates signed OF Guillermo Heredia to a one-year, $1 million contract and designated OF Pablo Reyes for assignment … Marlins signed C Francisco Cervelli to a one-year, $2 million contract and designated OF Austin Dean for assignment … Brewers agreed to terms with free agent 1B Logan Morrison on a minor league contract which includes an invitation to spring training … Reds signed LHP Brooks Raley to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training and designated OF Nick Martini for assignment … Diamondbacks signed RHP Trevor Clifton to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training and designated RHP Jimmie Sherfy for assignment … Nationals signed RHP Tyler Eppler to a minor league contract … Mets released INF/OF Sam Haggerty.