6:16PM: Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas aren’t expected to be part of the trade, Passan reports. Fowler also isn’t thought to be part of this deal, though he could eventually be on the move elsewhere since the Cardinals have been discussing him in other trade negotiations.
5:37PM: The trade is shaping up as a multi-player blockbuster, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links) reports that the Cardinals and Rays are each sending three “pieces” to the other in the deal. “At least two of those pieces are draft picks,” Rosenthal notes, indicating that Competitive Balance Round selections (the only type of draft picks that can be traded) are in play. The Cards are slated to pick in Competitive Balance Round A following the first round of the draft, whereas the Rays draw after the second round in Competitive Balance Round B, so there is roughly a 30-slot gap between the two picks.
4:57PM: The Cardinals have discussed Tyler O’Neill with the Rays and other teams this offseason, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, though there isn’t yet any indication that O’Neill could be involved in the Liberatore trade.
3:53PM: The Cardinals have acquired left-hander Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). The return headed back to Tampa Bay is expected to include at least one player from the Cards’ Major League roster, and hints at a very notable trade given Liberatore’s status as one of the top prospects in the Rays’ system.
Picked 16th overall in the 2018, Liberatore has gotten off to a solid start in his young career, with a 2.59 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and 2.57 K/BB rate over his first 111 professional innings. That includes a 3.10 ERA over 78 1/3 IP at the A-ball level in 2019, though Liberatore missed a bit of time with a minor back injury.
It was a performance that did nothing to dim Liberatore’s stock in the eyes of evaluators, as the most recent prospect rankings from Baseball America (31st), Baseball Prospectus (37th), MLB.com (41st), and Fangraphs (63rd) all place Liberatore solidly among the sport’s top minor leaguers. MLB Pipeline ranks Liberatore fourth on its list of the best left-handed pitching prospects, with a scouting report touting his potential for as many as three 60-grade pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale. In fact, Liberatore’s fastball, changeup, and slider all earned a 55 grade from Pipeline, while his “swing-and-miss hammer” of a curveball gets a 60 grade.
Liberatore is only 20 years old, and at 6’5″ and 200 pounds, might still need to add some bulk to withstand the workload of a Major League starting pitcher. He’ll now immediately become the most promising young arm in the St. Louis farm system, now that the likes of Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson have graduated to the big leagues, and Alex Reyes’ injury concerns continues to cloud his future. Many of the Cardinals’ current top youngsters are position players, which could be addressed by whatever player or players are sent back to Tampa Bay.
As Passan notes, the Rays have been looking for outfield help, so it’s logical to guess that the outfielder-heavy Cards could be dealing from their logjam on the grass. It’s probably safe to assume that the Rays aren’t taking on Dexter Fowler’s big contract (unless this is part of a much larger trade), but St. Louis has a wealth of younger outfielders that could be fits for Tampa Bay — Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Jose Martinez, or utilityman Tommy Edman could all be part of this trade. One can’t even rule out top prospect Dylan Carlson, as while the Cardinals have been resistant to offers, it would take a promising young arm like Liberatore to even get the Cards’ attention on a Carlson deal. Still, St. Louis is probably less likely to deal a player who could help their team as early as 2020 in order to land a pitcher who is still at least a couple of years away.