By Patrick Kelly
With baseball approaching the fall classic and most fans just relieved to be here, there seems to be one fan base that is less than thrilled about how the playoffs have gone. That fanbase would be the St. Louis Cardinals who after being eliminated in five games in the first round are now watching a young prospect, Randy Arozarena, tear up the MLB post-season leaving fans scratching their heads as to how he could have slipped through the cracks.
Over the past few years, the Cardinals organization has been building up their young outfield, with prospects left and right projected to be solid members of any lineup across MLB. Now with some players starting to settle in, it’s starting to seem like the Cardinals bet on the wrong horse. It seems the No. 1 prospect for the longest time was outfielder Harrison Bader, who on top of having a lot of defensive talent was seen as someone that could be the face of a franchise with his looks and his hair. Now some years have passed and along with the hair went a lot of potential that the Cardinals saw in him. Now he is just short of 1,000 at-bats in his career hitting .234 with 31 home runs and 97 RBI. While Bader may still not have reached his full potential, he is unfortunately now compared to Arozarena, the ALCS MVP.
Backtracking to late 2019, the Cardinals called up Arozarena from the AAA affiliate in Springfield. Despite adding him to the roster and despite the Redbirds not seeing what he is capable of at the big leagues yet, he only saw 20 plate appearances in 19 games. After the season the Cardinals had a lot to look over. With Dexter Fowler still under contract for another year and Marcel Ozuna leaving, the Cardinals had to make some choices in the outfield. Bader had worked his way into becoming an everyday player and Tyler O’Neil was also getting his share of plate appearances.
With those two already in the majors and with Dylan Carlson being another young prospect, the Cardinals made the move to trade Arozarena on Jan. 9, 2020. Arozarena was shipped to Tampa Bay along with Carlos Martinez and their Competitive Balance Round A draft pick in exchange for top 100 MLB prospect Mathew Liberatore, Edgardo Rodriguez and a Competitive Balance Round B draft pick. At first, the Cardinals saw this as a big win getting one of the strongest young arms in the country, but that slowly started to fade as Arozarena emerged.
Once the season started, Arozarena was seeing consistent play in the Rays outfield. He finished the season batting .281 with seven home runs and 11 RBI. Once October hit is when the trade really started to hurt. In the first five postseason games of his career with the Cardinals, he only had four at-bats, the same amount he had starting Game 1 for the Rays, where he smashed a triple, followed it up in Game 2 with two doubles to lift the Rays past the Toronto Blue Jays. The next three games really had St. Louisans grinding their teeth, with three straight home runs in the first three games against the Yankees. After that, he didn’t look back once he started getting in a grove. He has homered four times since, including in Game 7 of the ALCS where his two-run shot helped propel the Rays over the Houston Astros.
With Arozarena palying well, all eyes seem to turn to John Mozeliak. Mozeliak gambled on three other outfielders and the one he let through isn’t making him look good. Adding to that, with the time it takes pitchers to reach MLB at times, it could be a while before the Cardinals get even in any way with Liberatore.