The Cardinals and Rays are close to a deal that would send left-handed pitching prospect Matt Liberatore to St. Louis, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to report on Thursday afternoon. The package heading back to Tampa is not currently known, but Passan suggests it will include major-league pieces, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold names slugging outfielder Tyler O’Neill and right-handed reliever John Gant as Cardinals players who could be trade candidates:
Well-regarded pitching prospect Matt Liberatore has been traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the St. Louis Cardinals, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN. It's part of a trade expected to send major league pieces back to Tampa Bay, which has been searching for outfield bats.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 9, 2020
Liberatore is ranked as the 41st-best prospect in baseball and the No. 4 left-handed pitching prospect overall by MLB Pipeline. He was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Rays system at the time of the trade. Liberatore, a native of the Phoenix area who was selected 16th overall in the 2018 draft, will be reunited with best friend Nolan Gorman, the top prospect in the Cardinals’ system.
The 20-year-old Liberatore posted a 3.10 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over 16 appearances (15 starts) for Low-A Bowling Green in 2019, throwing one complete game. Assuming that he isn’t eventually flipped to the Rockies in a deal for Nolan Arenado, who the Cardinals have frequently been connected to in recent weeks, he should be a valuable addition to a Cardinals system that has quite a few young pitchers contributing at the major-league level or in Triple-A, but doesn’t have much high-end pitching talent at the lower levels of the minors.