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Rays Outlook: What this latest trade with the Cardinals means for 2020

Per usual, the Tampa Bay Rays made an intriguing trade. Ever since the Rays-Pirates trade involving Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz for Chris Archer, baseball fans have grown accustomed to seeing the Rays involved in atypical trades. This one is no different. The finalized trade is as followed:

The low-level catching prospect is 19-year-old Edgardo Rodriguez, who spent time in the Gulf Coast league in 2019.

The big chip in this trade being Matthew Liberatore, the Rays spent a first-round pick on him coming out of high school in 2018. That selection was one of two highly regarded left-handed pitchers in that draft, the other being USF southpaw, Shane McClanahan whom the Rays selected in the compensatory round proceeding the first round.

Liberatore is talked about by most scouts as a projected top of the rotation arm. His repertoire consists of a 95+ MPH fastball, an advanced curveball for his age, and a change-up that is coming into form. On the scouting 20-80 scale, all of his pitches are rated as 55 or better.

I mention McClanahan for more than just their shared draft class. The Rays have tremendous depth at starting pitcher in the minor leagues, as 15 of their Top 30 prospects are pitchers, with six of those are lefties. This makes Liberatore an expendable asset and one that can garner the return of 2 big league players, as well as draft capital.

This is a change of pace type trade for the Rays. Rarely do you see them subtract from their highly touted farm system when most of their moves are made with the future in mind and adding to the farm system. In terms of monetary value, this move is also atypical for the frugal Rays. Liberatore, drafted in 2018 has plenty of years of control remaining and at a low cost. Acquiring Jose Martinez, 31, is adding more to the payroll. Randy Arozarena should figure to be on the cheaper side as he just cracked the big leagues this year. Martinez is slated to make just over $2 million and is arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2021.

Martinez has long been on the Rays radar and they tried to acquire him last off-season. His archetype is best suited for an American League club as his defensive metrics aren’t great. For Tampa, Martinez figures to play first base, or DH against lefties. This move also suggests the newly signed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who bats from the left side and can rotate from DH, third base, and corner outfield, will see a bulk of time at third. The Rays have a lot of names who can rotate the DH and first base positions making each positon rather fluid. The addition of Martinez just adds more depth and flexibility to the Major League roster.

Arozarena is an intriguing prospect who slots into the Rays Top 30 prospects list. He has a chance to make the team out of camp as the 4th outfielder, and a plus is that he bats from the right side. Right-handed bench bats have been something the Rays have been seeking since the start of the off-season, and this trade nets one starter and one backup. Rays GM Erik Neander mentioned his tools as a major upside, with the ability to cement himself as a solid major league contributor. Neander also mentioned this trade as a key to expanding on the current core of talent, with the goal of reaching the playoffs again in 2020.

I do believe the swapping of draft picks played a large portion to the trade. Lately, teams have seemed to covet the draft and more specifically, the compensation rounds and their position within those rounds. This move puts Tampa into the first competitive balance round, which follows the first round, instead of the second competitive balance round, which follows the second round.

For Rays fans, I wouldn’t be too worried about losing a prospect with the pedigree of Liberatore. The recent track record for trades has boded well for the Rays ultimately squeezing out the best value of newly acquired players. The previously mentioned depth of pitchers allows for moves like this to be made.

Cardinal fans should be excited by the ceiling of Liberatore, albeit he is a few years away from reaching the Majors. Others have been intrigued by the idea of using Liberatore as a trade chip for either the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado or Boston’s David Price, or even Mookie Betts, if they package more blue-chip prospects/young big leaguers. This trade alleviates a crowded Cardinals outfielder and opens the door for a Marcell Ozuna reunion. If they do resign Ozuna, they would surrender a draft pick, as he was tendered a qualifying offer. Better yet, they could go after Nicholas Castellanos, who does not have a draft pick compensation tied to his free agency.

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