Like a good magician, while everyone was focusing on the idea of the Cardinals trading for Nolan Arenado, John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch went completely the other way to heat up the hot stove. Seemingly out of nowhere yesterday, it was announced the Cards were getting the top pitching prospect from the Tampa Bay Rays. It took us quite a while to find out the rest of the story, but eventually the trade pieces were revealed.
The Cardinals gave up major league pieces–Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena–for minor league ones–Matthew Liberatore, the aforementioned pitching prospect, and catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez. There was also a swap of competitive balance draft picks which worked out as the Rays moving up and the Cards moving down, but that wasn’t a huge part of the deal. (At least not to the outside looking in.) It’s telling how good Liberatore is that a deal like this is considered a slam-dunk win for the Redbirds.
It is a very good deal for St. Louis, as they are able to free up some of their outfield logjam and get a guy that is ranked in the upper half of the top 100 prospects in baseball. The Cardinals haven’t gone out and acquired top minor league talent like that since maybe Adam Wainwright (depending on where Genesis Cabrera was ranked, I guess). That doesn’t mean that it was a bad deal for Tampa Bay at all, though. They get two pieces that will help them this year at minimal cost (it helps that Martinez signed that two-year deal buying out arbitration last season) and, well, we have the acronym TINSTAAPP for a reason. (There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, for those of you that haven’t seen it.) Liberatore has only reached A ball so far and while all signs are that he’s a good one, there’s still a ways before he’s going to be ready for the majors and a lot can happen on that road.
So it’s an exciting deal for the future. However, as Viva El Birdos writer J.P. Hill was pointing out on Twitter, how does this help 2020?
The Cardinals still have four outfielders before Dylan Carlson enters the conversation (and, depending on how you feel about his 2019 second half, Justin Williams might be in that mix as well). They still haven’t added an offensive piece to an lineup that struggled to put runs on the board. The outlook for this coming season today isn’t much different than what it was yesterday, save that it is now less one of the more reliable bench bats in Martinez.
There’s a line of thought–perhaps more a line of hope–that Liberatore is just passing through, that he might be a part of a deal going to Colorado for Arenado. While this deal may help that one in some way or another, it seems much more likely, given the current Cardinal administration, that this is it. They might re-sign Marcell Ozuna now since there’s a little more outfield room, but adding him really just puts you in the same cramped position you were in last year. Ozuna, Harrison Bader, and Dexter Fowler would probably get the bulk of the time out there while Lane Thomas and Tyler O’Neill struggle to find time and Carlson has to play a lot in Memphis.
However, if you don’t bring Ozuna back, it’s really hard to say that this team is better than last year. Not that it necessarily has to be to win the division, but if you are wanting to sell fans on this team doing more than that, some sort of addition would be a good thing.
We’ll see how things go over the next few days. As much as I’d like to see Arenado, my bet is that this is the team that the Cardinals will bring to Jupiter. Whether it is enough, we’ll have to wait and see.