The St. Louis Cardinals officially entered the Hot Stove on Thursday by trading for highly regarded Tampa Bay Rays prospect Matthew Liberatore.
The 20-year-old left-handed starter was Tampa Bay's 4th ranked prospect and the thing on many fans' minds is wondering if this trade is a precursor for a bigger deal.
With that in mind, along with who the Cardinals are reportedly sending to Tampa Bay and when this kid is going to make the team, let's head this news up with 5 things to know.
5) Liberatore instantly becomes the Cardinals' top pitching prospect
I fully expect Liberatore to jump over the current No. 6 prospect Zach Thompson when he officially arrives as a Cardinal. The deal is still in the unfinished stage, but Liberatore gives the Cards a true stud prospect for the first time in years. You can never have too much pitching is one way to look at it. Another way is possibly sending a young starter to Colorado in a trade.
4) Liberatore is 20 and not hitting Busch Stadium anytime soon
He spent the 2019 season pitching for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, a Class A affiliate for the Rays. Liberatore was 6-2 with a 3.10 ERA, making 15 starts. He struck out 76 and walked 31, so there is obvious raw talent, but he has some kinks to work out. A landing spot for Liberatore would be the 2022 season most likely, if not later. No need to rush him unless he blows through the ranks or there's a need via trade or injury.
3) Which Cardinals are heading south?
According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, the Cardinals are sending Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to the Rays, a team in need of outfielders, especially after losing former Cardinal Tommy Pham to San Diego. The Cardinals will also receive a low-level catching prospect, and the teams will swap compensation picks in the deal. The Cardinals will send their pick, which was between the first and second rounds, to Tampa and Tampa will send their selection, which is between the second and third rounds.
2) Does this mean the Cardinals are back in the Marcell Ozuna business?
Very likely. The two sides have remained in contact for weeks, and every day that falls off the calendar, Ozuna's price goes down or at least doesn't rise too far above what the Cardinals want to pay. Ozuna may not see that 4-5 year deal out there, so a 2-3 year with St. Louis wouldn't be a bad idea. Cardinals know what they are getting with Ozuna, who is projected for an .815 OPS and 26 home runs in 2020.
1) Does this mean the Nolan Arenado trade is still possible?
Sure. I wouldn't connect those dots too quickly or attach your heart to it, but the Cardinals are taking a good look at Colorado's golden goose. Clearing out outfielders and acquiring a top-level pitching piece that could attract the Rockies isn't out of John Mozeliak's norm, but it's still a little too far-fetched for me to plant both feet into the idea.
Either way, the Cardinals got a good deal. Martinez's bat came back to Earth in 2019, and Arozarena got limited action last season. Liberatore is a legit pitching prospect, an arm to fall back on if Austin Gomber's shoulder isn't right, Dakota Hudson's splits are enlivened, and the Alex Reyes dream really is dead.
I'd like to continue to shore up the offense and get some run-producers, but there's still time.
Thanks for reading,