Jose Martinez trade grades: Rays pay for offense; Cards cash in some depth

Sporting News

The Rays and Cardinals got together Thursday on a trade that included four players and two draft picks. St. Louis sent outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay in exchange for left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore and minor league catcher Edgardo Rodriguez. The teams also swapped positions in the compensatory rounds of the 2020 MLB Draft.

Martinez and Arozarena make three new outfielders for Tampa Bay this offseason, joining Hunter Renfroe, who was obtained from the Padres in a trade that sent Tommy Pham to San Diego. (Offseason signee Yoshitomo Tsutsugo played the outfield in Japan, but the Rays list him as an infielder.)

Liberatore, 20, becomes the Cardinals' No. 3 minor league prospect according to MLB Pipeline, one spot behind childhood friend Nolan Gorman.

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The deal turned out to be just the first of the night for Tampa Bay, which later sent right-hander Austin Pruitt to the Astros in exchange for two minor leaguers, right-hander Peyton Battenfield and outfielder Cal Stevenson.

Sporting News takes a deeper look at the Martinez trade and hands out early grades:

Rays' grade: B

Martinez's value lies in his offense, and his career .976 OPS against left-handers makes the right-handed hitter an ideal complement to left-handed-hitting outfielders Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier. His offense is so enticing that Tampa Bay, which highly values catching the ball, is willing to take on Martinez's subpar defense (minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, tied for fifth-worst among 228 MLB right fielders).

UPDATE: According to MLB.com, Martinez will serve mainly as a platoon designated hitter-first baseman. Martinez has played first base in 118 MLB games, but adding him there further crowds the position for the Rays, who also have Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Nate Lowe, Brian O'Grady and two-way player Brendan McKay.

Arozarena, 24, will be a candidate for the new 26th roster spot in MLB this year, although the Rays already had a lot of options for that spot (O'Grady and Michael Brosseau, to name just two). He is best known for his speed (the Cardinals used him as a pinch runner six times after his call-up from the minors), but he also has shown moderate power in the minor leagues (15 home runs last season).

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Not to be lost in this deal is the swap of draft picks. Tampa Bay is moving up 28 positions, from 66th overall (in Comp Round B) to 38th overall (in Comp Round A), according to the Cardinals' trade announcement.

The price for all of that was Liberatore, the Rays' first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2018 draft, and the 19-year-old Rodriguez, who was limited to 10 games in the Gulf Coast League last season. It's too early to tell whether they represent an overpay, but Tampa Bay isn't getting away cheaply by giving up Liberatore, the fourth-ranked left-handed pitching prospect in the minors according to MLB Pipeline.

Cardinals' grade: B-plus

The real grade will be posted when/if Liberatore reaches the majors, because right now he's just someone who pitched in 16 games (15 starts) at low Single-A Bowling Green last season. His numbers in those 16 games did hint at his ability, however, as he posted a 3.10 ERA and averaged 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Walks were an issue (3.6 per nine), but he was a master at keeping the ball in the yard (just two home runs allowed in 78 1/3 innings).

St. Louis could have him begin the 2020 season at high-A Palm Beach rather than make him go back to the Midwest League with Peoria. Rodriguez figures to start out in the extreme low minors

Martinez and Arozarena, frankly, were not an overpay. Regardless of how one views the Cardinals' remaining outfield depth — Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O'Neill, Lane Thomas and Justin Williams are still on the 40-man roster — those two were not frontline players and their exits won't harm St. Louis' chances in 2020.

There was speculation that this trade could be a precursor to the Cardinals re-signing free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna or a way of strengthening a possible St. Louis trade offer for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.

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