St. Louis Cardinals: The Arozarena trade has lessons for all

The trade of Randy Arozarena from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Tampa Bay Rays can remind everyone of some baseball truths.

Every St. Louis Cardinals fan knows what has happened by now: Former Cardinals outfielder Randy Arozarena was on fire for the Tampa Bay Rays during the postseason, setting records for the most postseason hits and home runs, causing Cardinals fans to lament and grieve about the loss of the seemingly budding star and directing their anger to President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak.

In a recent videoconference, Mozeliak even seemed to regret his trade of Arozarena.

“I will own that,” said Mozeliak. “That’s on me. You need to know your own players. We will revisit how we rank our own players and make sure that we don’t have something like this happen again.”

But it’s not just the front office workers who can learn from this experience.

Mozeliak seems to be making the same mistake many other Cardinals fans are in judging a trade by a small sample size.

Arozarena wasn’t on the active Rays squad until the end of August, and he has 190 career plate appearances when combining the regular season and the postseason. Most pitchers around the league haven’t figured out a batter in so few plate appearances, and this is especially true when a batter hasn’t played against the same team in more than one series, as is the case with Arozarena.

Arozarena also shone brightest in 86 plate appearances in the postseason, where one’s successes are amplified. He hit .377/.442/.831. Had this hot streak been in the regular season, there would have been much less attention given to it.

Arozarena’s batting average on balls in play was .396 in the postseason, which is astronomically high. A BABIP of this level often signifies quite a bit of good fortune and screams regression.

One player who seems comparable to Arozarena is Aristides Aquino of the Cincinnati Reds. Aquino burst onto the scene in 2019, and in his first 88 plate appearances that year, he hit  .338/.398/.823, but his BABIP was only .311. For the rest of the year, Aquino only managed a line of .215/.268/.415. The fact that Arozarena’s BABIP was so much higher than Aquino’s suggests Arozarena will fall even harder.

It’s also foolish to assume the Rays “won” the trade when the main piece the Cardinals received, Matthew Liberatore, hasn’t even made his MLB debut. Liberatore is oozing potential, and he could very easily form a nasty one-two punch with Jack Flaherty at the top of the rotation soon.

Thus ends lesson one: Don’t be too hasty to judge.

But let’s say that Arozarena is the real deal. Heck, let’s say he makes it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a few decades. Furthermore, let’s say Liberatore never amounts to much in his career. This would obviously be the worst-case scenario for Cardinals fans, but there is no given that Arozarena would have fared as well in St. Louis as he did in Tampa.

Remember, Jeff Albert is the hitting coach of the Cardinals, and there was an article in The Athletic that stated Albert and former hitting coach Mark Budaska had conflicting hitting ideas, leading to Budaska’s firing. Under Albert, the Cardinals’ offense has become anemic, and as a player who came up through the Cardinals farm system, Arozarena would not have had any outside influence on his hitting to give him another perspective. I think it’s quite possible he would have been unimpressive if given more time in the major leagues with the Cardinals.

Thus ends lesson two: Don’t assume theoretical outcomes.

Finally, if the trade does appear to be tilted in the Rays’ favor after a few years to let it pan out, Cardinals fans need to step back and spit out their sour grapes. The backlash I’ve seen against the trade since Arozarena’s breakout made me realize many fans have become complacent in the Cardinals’ success and expect every player traded to another team to just fizzle out.

But the reality is that other teams have caught up to the Cardinals in scouting, and in some cases, even surpassed them. Launch angle, exit velocity, and spin rate are the current sabermetrics darlings, but every club is looking to find the hot new stat to identify successful players, and the Cardinals aren’t leading the charge anymore.

Thus ends lesson three: Don’t take the team’s success for granted.

Next: Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is back in the dugout

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I don’t think Cardinals fans should be blubbering over Arozarena as the one that got away. We need far more results to accurately draw a conclusion. But even if he does prosper with the Rays for years, Cardinals fans should see it as a learning opportunity not only for the front office, but for themselves as well.