This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays’ Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
ST. PETERSBURG — Two-and-a-half years ago, the Rays and Cardinals made an interesting trade. It was an uncharacteristic move for Tampa Bay. And it resolved a logjam for St. Louis, which had the unusual problem of too much outfield depth.
On the transaction wire, it looked like this on Jan. 9, 2020: St. Louis Cardinals traded 1B José Martínez, LF Randy Arozarena and Future Considerations to Tampa Bay Rays for LHP Matthew Liberatore, C Edgardo Rodriguez and Future Considerations.
In one MLB.com headline, Martínez was the focal point. In another, it was all about the left-handed Liberatore. But you might have noticed that having Arozarena is working out pretty well for the Rays.
This week, with the Cardinals coming to Tropicana Field for a three-game series beginning Tuesday, Arozarena will face his former team for the first time since the deal went down. Arozarena said he’s still close with some Cardinals players, including Yadier Molina, Edmundo Sosa, Harrison Bader, Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson, and he’s ready to take the field against them.
“I’ve been anxious to be able to play against them since I got traded,” Arozarena said Sunday through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I’m looking forward to facing them on Tuesday. I’m also looking forward to seeing some of my ex-teammates from over there. I’m going to do everything to just try to beat them.”
Arozarena crushed opposing pitchers in the upper Minors and showcased enough speed to become a well-regarded prospect in St. Louis’ system by the time he made his MLB debut on Aug. 14, 2019. But he was limited to 23 plate appearances over 19 games that season and only five plate appearances over five games in the ’19 playoffs.
During the 2020 World Series, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo detailed the discussions that ultimately led to the Rays acquiring Arozarena. The two sides had once considered Arozarena as part of a much larger deal during the 2017 Winter Meetings, Mayo reported. After the 2019 season, the Rays needed right-handed-hitting outfielders and the Cardinals had too many. They eventually found the right deal.
And look how far Arozarena has come since then.
His historic postseason performance in 2020 made him a household name among baseball fans. He followed that up with a 20-homer, 20-steal campaign to become the American League Rookie of the Year. When the Rays hit the road, Arozarena interacts with fans at every ballpark and often leaves them chanting his first name from the left-field seats.
“I think people know me a little bit more now,” he said, smiling. “But I’m glad I’ve been able to show the kind of talent I have and [for] the opportunity I’ve had that the Rays have given me here.”
Arozarena has had an uneven season so far, hitting .262/.309/.431 in his first 52 games. He finished the weekend tied for the team lead with six home runs along with a team-high 12 doubles and 10 steals, and he was second with 24 RBIs. But he’s also struck out in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances, has been caught stealing an MLB-high five times, and he’s run into more outs on the base paths (seven) than any other player in the Majors.
Still, there have been some encouraging signs lately, and they couldn’t come at a better time for a lineup in need of an anchor while top hitters Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe are sidelined. Arozarena went 5-for-11 with a triple and a two-run homer and only one strikeout during the White Sox series, and he hit .350/.400/.617 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 15 games leading up to his reunion with his former club.
“I feel good, and I think the work that we do, it’s going to pay off,” Arozarena said. “Every day is a new day, so I try going with that and it gives me more confidence when I think that way.”