St. Louis Cardinals MLB Notebook – Week of January 6-12

photo: John Gant (Michael McLoone/Imagn)

This past week, the St. Louis Cardinals signed two players and made one trade amid rumors of a bigger one still ahead. With spring training approaching, our history feature highlights prior Cardinals Grapefruit League locales.


Trade with Tampa Bay Rays

On Thursday, January 9, a trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays was announced.  The Cardinals received left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, minor league catcher Edgardo Rodriguez, and a Competitive Balance Round B draft pick from the Rays.  In exchange, the Rays received outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena, plus a Competitive Balance Round A draft pick.

St. Louis had a glut of outfielders on the major league roster and in the minor leagues, a position of considerable depth in the system.  The Cardinals traded from this depth to obtain left handed pitching, an area of lesser depth in the system.

The 20 year old Liberatore was a first round draft pick by the Rays in 2018 and a top prospect in their system.  Liberatore is a close friend of the Cardinals’ 2018 first round pick, Nolan Gorman.  The two have been friends since the age of five and often played baseball together growing up.  In 2019, Liberatore pitched for the Rays’ Class A affiliate in Bowling Green, posting an ERA of 3.10 in 16 appearances with a record of 6-2.  The left hander is ranked by The Cardinal Nation as the Cardinals No. 3 prospect.

Comparing and Ranking Cardinals Lefties Liberatore and Thompson

Rodriguez, 19, was a 2017 international signing by the Rays out of Venezuela. He played 10 games in the Gulf Coast League in 2019, and prior to that he logged 51 games in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .330 with six home runs.

Martinez was acquired by the Cardinals from the Royals for cash considerations in May 2016.  He made his major league debut that September.  In four seasons with the Cardinals, Martinez slashed .298/.363/.453 in over 1,200 plate appearances.  Martinez was a below average defensive player, which hampered him from being a regular in the starting lineup.  Martinez’ profile is more suited as a designated hitter in the American League.

The 24 year old Arozarena was the Cardinals’ no. 7 prospect according to The Cardinal Nation and debuted with St. Louis last season.  The outfielder put up excellent offensive numbers with the Cardinals’ Double-A and Triple-A clubs in 2019 and was TCN’s system-wide Player of the Year. However, he had a challenging road ahead for playing time with St. Louis due to the glut of outfielders.

The possibility of a return of Marcell Ozuna to the outfield mix, in addition to the possible 2020 debut of outfield prospect Dylan Carlson may have also figured into the reasoning behind the trade.

The trade reduced the Cardinals 40-man roster to 38 players, giving them flexibility for additional roster tweaking for 2020.


Gant avoids arbitration hearing

Pitcher John Gant reached an agreement on a one-year contract and avoid arbitration with the Cardinals prior to the deadline to submit salary numbers on Friday, January 10.  Gant was the Cardinals’ only arbitration eligible player following the release of pitcher Dominic Leone in November.

Gant will make $1.3 million in 2020, his first of three arbitration-eligible years.

John Gant

Gant spent the entirety of the 2019 season in the Cardinals bullpen after losing the competition for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training. Gant was acquired by the Cardinals in the December 2016 trade of Jaime Garcia to the Braves.  Gant went 11-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 66 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2019.  He struggled in the second half, posting a 6.55 ERA during that period and was left off the postseason roster.

The settlement with Gant leaves no player on the 40-man roster unsigned for the 2020 season.


Backup catcher still uncertain

As of this writing, the identity of the backup for catcher Yadier Molina in 2020 remains uncertain.  The Cardinals have prospect Andrew Knizner on the roster as a possibility, and the Cardinals have stated an interest in a reunion with the 2019 reserve Matt Wieters.

Matt Wieters

Wieters is a free agent, but it has been reported for the last month that both the Cardinals and the Oakland Athletics have interest in signing the veteran backstop.  After Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic recently reiterated the interest by both teams, St. Louis beat writer Derrick Goold confirmed that not only are the Cardinals hoping for a return of Wieters, but they are keeping a locker open for him.

The veteran catcher is no doubt holding out for a full time gig and as much money as possible, but should that not pan out, the position as Molina’s backup, with the limited playing time that comes with it, remains an option.  Wieters logged 67 games with the Cardinals in 2019, much of that due to Molina’s month long stint on the injured list with a groin injury.

In addition to Knizner, the Cardinals added some insurance by signing catcher Oscar Hernandez to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.  Hernandez, 26, spent time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Boston Red Sox, but hasn’t played in major league game since 2016.  The catcher will be assigned to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.  Hernandez is known more for his defensive ability than for offense.

Cardinals Sign Catcher Oscar Hernandez


Trade and Acquisition Rumors

Nolan Arenado (Allan Henry/Imagn)

Matt Spiegel, columnist for Chicago AM radio’s 670 The Score, tweeted on Saturday that the station’s baseball analyst Bruce Levine heard the Cardinals made a trade offer for Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado. This offer allegedly included Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez, Tyler O’Neill, and newly acquired pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore.

Later that day, Rockies beat writer Patrick Saunders from the Denver Post tweeted that trade rumors concerning Arenado are dart throws and should be taken with a grain of salt.  Additionally, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak stated in an interview with KMOX on Sunday morning that the rumors are “90% to 95% untrue”.

On Saturday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tweeted about the Cardinals’ continued interest in free agent catcher Matt Wieters, who spent the 2019 season as the Cardinals’ backup to Yadier Molina.  Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch confirmed the Cardinals’ interest in Wieters in a subsequent tweet.

The Cardinals have been linked all offseason to free agent and former Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna declined the qualifying offer from the Cardinals and thus comes with the loss of a draft pick attached.  While the Cardinals maintain an interest in Ozuna, he remains a free agent for now.    Ozuna recently told a Dominican television reporter that his decision is down to either the Cardinals or the Texas Rangers.  Ozuna stated that if the Cardinals “step up” he would prefer to return to St. Louis.   The exact definition of “step up” is unclear, but it has been reported the Cardinals are not interested in a long-term deal for the outfielder.


Transactions 

  • 1/7 The Cardinals signed C Oscar Hernandez to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.
  • 1/9 The Cardinals traded RF Jose Martinez, LF Randy Arozarena, and a Round A Competitive Balance draft pick to the Tampa Bay Rays for LHP Matthew Liberatore, C Edgardo Rodriguez, and a Competitive Balance Round B draft pick.

Injury Report

There are no new injuries to report.


Looking Ahead

The annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival is scheduled for January 18-20 at the Hyatt Regency in St. Louis.  Admission and autograph tickets are currently on sale at mlb.com/cardinals/fans/winter-warm-up .

In conjunction with the Winter Warm-Up, the annual Cardinals Caravan takes place the same weekend, with groups of players and former players making 20 stops in towns across the Midwest.  The full slate of dates, times, places, and players participating are available here.

Spring Training is a month away.  Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on February 11, with the first workout to begin on February 12.  Position players will report on February 16, with first workout on February 17.

The first spring training game will be played on February 22 against the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.  The full spring training schedule can be viewed here.


Blast from the Past

Spring Training is just around the corner, and as Cardinals players prepare for a return to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter Florida, this week’s Blast from the Past recalls prior Spring Training venues in St. Louis Cardinals history.

The Cardinals have had their spring training home in Jupiter since 1998.  Roger Dean Stadium was built that year and has a capacity of around 7,000. The Cardinals share the facility with the Miami Marlins.  In addition to the Cardinals, the Roger Dean complex is host to four minor league teams:  the Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins Class A-Advanced), the Palm Beach Cardinals (Cardinals Class A-Advanced), the Gulf Coast Cardinals, and the Gulf Coast Marlins.

From 1947 to 1997, the Cardinals held spring training in Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida, with a capacity of 7,500.  It was built primarily for baseball but has hosted other sports in its history.  The Cardinals shared Al Lang Stadium with various other MLB teams throughout their history there, including the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, the New York Mets, and the Baltimore Orioles.  The Tampa Bay Rays took over the facility for its spring training in 1998 and remained there through 2008.  The stadium is currently the host of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team.

Exterior of Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, FL (National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Cardinals spring training in St. Petersburg, FL (National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Jim Konstanty, Vern Rapp, Shelden Bender and George Kissell

The Cardinals made their spring training home at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida from 1930-1936.  LECOM Park was known as Florida’s version of Fenway Park.  This was the spring training era of the Cardinals “Gashouse Gang”.  The stadium had a capacity of 2,000. Future Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean liked Bradenton so much he bought a local gas station there and had a home there.  It was said the Cardinals sent Dean to Bradenton weeks before spring training to keep him out of trouble and sent a local sportswriter to keep an eye on him.

Other spring training facilities used by the Cardinals include Ban Johnson Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas (1900), Herald Park in Houston (1904), and West End Park in Houston (1906-08).

The Cardinals held spring training in other cities at various times, including St. Louis (1901-02), Dallas (1903), Marlins Springs, TX (1905), Little Rock, Arkansas (1909-1910), West Baden, Indiana (1911), Jackson, Mississippi (1912), Columbus, Georgia (1913), St. Augustine, Florida (1914), Hot Wells, Texas (1915-17), San Antonio, Texas (1918), St Louis, again (1919), Brownsville Texas (1920), Orange, Texas (1921-22), Bradenton, Florida (1923-24), Stockton, California (1925), San Antonio, again (1926), Avon Park, Florida (1927-29), Daytona Beach, Florida (1937), St. Petersburg’s Waterfront Park (1938-42), Cairo, Illinois (1943-45), and St. Petersburg Athletic Park (1946).


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