I don’t know anything about prospects. I am a complete idiot regarding prospects. There are like a dozen prospects I know about in all of baseball that aren’t St. Louis Cardinals prospects. Matt Liberatore is one of them. Well, was one of them.
This afternoon, news broke that the Cardinals had acquired the former Tampa Bay Rays prospect, recently ranked 41st in all of MLB, but with no further details about what the package was. I was excited at first, and then dreaded that the Cardinals were going to overpay. Now that the dust has settled, I want to build a monument to this trade.
It’s not that what the Cardinals sent to Tampa Bay was bad–it isn’t. Jose Martinez is a noted masher of lefty pitching, Randy Arozarena has shown flashes of brilliance, and a first-round draft pick, even if it’s in the competitive balance stages of it, is still a valuable thing to have. But the Cardinals were running out of places to play Jose Martinez–the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt meant he would almost never get to play at first base, and defensively, he was a bit of a mess in a corner outfield spot (and his 101 wRC+, making him slightly above league average, wasn’t exactly so good that a team would be willing to sacrifice defense for his bat). And while Randy Arozarena hit well last season in AA, AAA, and the Majors, he was buoyed by an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play–while he profiles to be a decent MLB outfielder, he doesn’t have can’t-miss-prospect pedigree and he will be 25 years old by the time Spring Training rolls around. The presence of the slightly younger Lane Thomas, a similar player, likely meant that one of the two was expendable.
And in Matt Liberatore, the Cardinals acquired a barely-20 lefty with two solid breaking pitches and a solid age-19 season in A-ball last season in the Rays organization, with an ERA and FIP in the low-threes. The 16th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, he is instantly far and away the top pitching prospect in the Cardinals organization. Also, he’s apparently friends with Nolan Gorman, a high-upside prospect who may have just fallen one spot in the Cardinals’ organizational rankings.
Jose Martinez is the one of the most incredibly likable players in recent memory for the Cardinals, a fun-loving and charismatic player who seemed to genuinely love playing in St. Louis. On a personal level, I will miss him. But at the same time, this is probably for the best for him to get a fresh chance somewhere that he might actually get to play more often. I hope he mashes. And while I never developed the same sort of relationship with Randy Arozarena, I don’t oppose him succeeding either.
That said, while Arozarena’s upside means this trade isn’t an absolute guaranteed win, I love it for the Cardinals. In a vacuum, it may not be an overwhelming victory, but given the preponderance of quad-A outfielders in the Cardinals organization, freeing up room on the 40-man roster (perhaps for Marcell Ozuna–the team has traded three right-handed outfielders this off-season, with Jose Adolis Garcia sent to Texas in addition to the two traded earlier today) and getting a big-ticket pitching prospect is exciting news indeed. And also, they acquired 19 year-old catcher Edgardo Rodriguez, who at this rate will be traded in five or six years when Yadier Molina is still playing 120 games a season.