Matthew Liberatore’s trade to the St. Louis Cardinals completed a trade deal with the Tampa Bay Rays on January 8th. This trade deal gave the Cardinals southpaw Matthew Liberatore, a low-level catching prospect and a class B draft pick (which comes after the second round). In return, the Cardinals gave up Jose Martinez, Randy Arozarena and a class A pick (after the first round). The Rays also traded right hander Austin Pruitt for prospects Cal Stevenson and Peyton Battenfield from the Astros to make room on their 40 man roster.
What this means for the Cardinals:
This deal is a win for the Cardinals for a variety of reasons. Matthew Liberatore is ranked Number 41 overall for prospects according to MLB Pipeline. He is looked at as a future ace. He was selected just three picks before his close friend Nolan Gorman, who is ranked number two in the Cardinals system. He is just after Dylan Carlson who is likely to lose his prospect status this season.
The Cardinals have several options when it comes to what to do next. They could (and likely will) add Liberatore to the ever-growing list of promising prospects such as Gorman, Zach Thompson, Andrew Knizer and Ivan Herrera. Another option is to ship Liberatore off to Colorado in a potential deal that could include Gorman. The unpopular but likely answer is that this won’t happen. Getting Nolan Arenado would make the Cardinals an instant World Series contender, especially if Marcell Ozuna can be signed. But a lot will need to be given up for this to happen due to the fact that Arenado is under contract until his age 35 season. The only reason the Cardinals were willing to trade Carson Kelly is that they have Knizer ready to backup Yadi Moliana and Ivan Herrera (who hits nukes) right behind him.
This deal also opens up an opportunity for Tyler O’Neill to take over either right or left field, depending on Dexter Fowler’s spring and if Ozuna comes back. The most likely spot is right field. O’Neal has been Major League ready for a while but was held back by his strikeout rate (40%) and Martinez, who is now in Tampa. In contrast, he might only keep a starting job for a couple of months until Carlson is ready for the big leagues. This is his opportunity to shine.
What this means for the Rays:
Although Liberatore is a top tier prospect and a future ace, this hardly makes a dent as the Rays have seven prospects in the top 100. The real win for the Rays comes now. Martinez has screamed American League for years. He’s a beast in the box but is a defensive liability. He is perfect for the designated hitter spot the Rays will likely put him in. Arozarena is also a promising young outfielder who performed well in the minors as well as in his short stint in the majors. This deal gives the Rays a power bat with 40 homerun potential.
Although the Cardinals lost Martinez, who wins will ultimately be determined by what happens to Liberatore. If he gets swapped for Arenado, then it will be an instant win. If he becomes an ace for the Cardinals or sits after Jack Flaherty, it will also be a win. The only way we can see the Cardinals losing this deal is if he turns into Alex Reyes and stays in the bullpen his whole career. Even then, it could still work out for the Cardinals in the long run.