It may be the middle of winter, but the hot stove has reignited.
In the first major trade of the calendar year, the Cardinals acquired 2018 first-rounder Matthew Liberatore from the Rays. Catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez and a Competitive Balance Round B selection (66th overall) also will head to St. Louis, which sends outfielders Randy Arozarena, Jose Martinez and a Competitive Balance Round A pick (38th overall) to Tampa Bay. Liberatore became the third-ranked Cardinals prospect.
After being picked 16th overall in the Draft, Liberatore made quick work of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. MLB.com's No. 41 overall prospect allowed three earned runs in 27 2/3 innings (0.98 ERA) before moving to Rookie Advanced Princeton, where he got the "W" in his only start.
Video: Hot Rods' Liberatore strikes out 10th batter
In his first full season, Liberatore utilized a four-pitch mix highlighted by a plus-curveball. The southpaw, who turned 20 in November, went 6-2 with a 3.10 ERA, 76 strikeouts and 31 walks in 78 1/3 innings for Class A Bowling Green.
Liberatore will slide in as the Cardinals' top pitching prospect, leap-frogging 2019 first-rounder Zack Thompson -- who reached the Class A Advanced Palm Beach bullpen in July -- and Junior Fernandez and Genesis Cabrera, who made it to St. Louis in 2019. On a personal level, Liberatore will be reunited with third baseman Nolan Gorman, St. Louis' No. 2 prospect. The pair have remained close friends since growing up in the Phoenix area together.
Offseason MiLB include
Rodriguez, 19, signed out of Venezuela in 2017 and batted .400 with six RBIs and three runs in just 10 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League games in 2019.
Arozarena, now ranked Tampa Bay's No. 12 prospect, compiled a .344/.431/.571 slash line in 343 at-bats between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis last season. He made his Major League debut in August, spent September with the big league club and hit .300 with an .891 OPS in 20 at-bats. Martinez, 31, hit .269 with a .751 OPS and 10 home runs with the big league club in 2019.
"We believe he is on the cusp of establishing himself as a very good Major League player with meaningful upside," Rays GM Erik Neander told MLB.com.