Posted on January 9, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
The post-holiday lull in the MLB hot stove is officially over. Thursday evening, the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays completed a blockbuster trade headlined by slugger Jose Martinez. The Rays have acquired Martinez, outfielder Randy Arozarena, and a Competetive Balance Round A Draft pick in exchange for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez, and a Competitive Balance Round B Draft pick.
The 31-year-old Martinez is undoubtedly the headliner of the trade. Despite his offensive prowess, Martinez began to fall out of favor in St. Louis in 2019 because of his defensive shortcomings. Obviously, that will be less of an issue with the Rays, who can play him at DH. Tampa has also been in the market for a right-handed power hitter most of the winter. In Martinez, they have found a good fit. In a down year, Martinez hit .269 with an OPS of .751. However, he hit over .300 with an OPS over .800 in each of the two seasons before that.
Of course, exactly how Martinez will be used remains to be seen. The Rays will likely try to utilize him at the DH spot, although Japanese signing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo should also see time there. Since he does most of his damage against left-handed pitchers, Martinez could potentially platoon with Hunter Renfroe, who was acquired from the Padres earlier this winter. It’s also possible that Martinez could share playing time at first base with the likes of Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, and Nate Lowe. In any event, Martinez adds a much-needed right-handed power bat to Tampa’s lineup.
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Meanwhile, Arozarena could fit in right away as Tampa’s fourth outfielder. The 24-year-old Cuban was rated as the no. 6 prospect in the St. Louis farm system, according to MLB.com. Part of the motivation of this trade for the Rays was adding outfield depth. Martinez helps a little, but Arozarena gives them a good defensive outfielder who can play all three outfield positions and could grow into an everyday center fielder one day.
As for the Cardinals, Liberatore is their biggest addition in this trade. He was the 16th overall pick in the 2018 draft and is one of the highest-rated left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. The 20-year-old has huge upside but is still a few years away from the majors. The same is true of Rodriguez, a 19-year-old catcher who played Rookie ball in 2019. While there are no guarantees with either prospect, getting both for the price of Martinez is a good deal for St. Louis.
Even without Martinez, the Cardinals have plenty of outfielders to fill out their lineup with Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill the projected starters. A reunion with free agent Marcell Ozuna is still on the table. The Cardinals also have young potential outfielders in Lane Thomas, Yairo Munoz, and Tommy Edman. With that amount of depth, they shouldn’t feel the absence of Martinez too much.
Of course, it will take a few years for the Cardinals to benefit from this trade. But as long as they don’t miss Martinez, there should be no ill effects in the short-term. Meanwhile, the Rays are hoping for an immediate impact from Martinez. Even if he doesn’t play every day, Martinez will provide some much-needed power, especially from the right side in an otherwise left-hand heavy lineup. He could end up playing an important role for the Rays in 2020.