St. Louis Cardinals Trade C Tony Cruz to Kansas City Royals for Prospect Jose Martinez


The Cardinals were able to find a taker for backup catcher Tony Cruz, who was at risk of being non-tendered prior to Wednesday’s deadline.

The St. Louis Cardinals were dealing with a bit of an awkward situation at the backup catcher position. Veteran Brayan Pena signed a two-year deal on Monday to be Yadier Molina‘s backup, leaving Tony Cruz, who had filled the role for the past four seasons, in limbo. Cruz was facing the possibility of being non-tendered prior to the Wednesday deadline for teams to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players, but the Cardinals found a fit for him on Wednesday, as he was traded to the Kansas City Royals for minor-league shortstop Jose Martinez.

Cruz, who has a career batting average of .220 and an OPS of .572, has struggled when pressed into starting duty over the past couple seasons, but he’s a steady backup who provides some additional positional flexibility, having seen action at first, second, and third base, as well as right field, during the course of his major-league career. Judging by the fact that the Royals’ tweet announcing Cruz’s acquisition referred to him as a catcher/infielder, it’s possible that he’ll be given more of an chance to play all over the field than Mike Matheny gave him over the past few seasons.

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While Cruz is fortunate to have a major-league job basically guaranteed to him in 2016, his opportunity behind the plate in Kansas City won’t be a whole lot better than the one he’s had over the past few years in St. Louis. Cruz will go from backing up the legendarily durable Yadier Molina to backing up Salvador Perez, who has played at least 138 games in each of the past three seasons. Perez, who has won the AL Gold Glove and made the All-Star team in all three of those seasons, played 142 regular-season games plus all 16 postseason games during 2015, so if anything, Cruz might provide some extra insurance for a catcher that has now played in 323 total games over the past two seasons.

The Royals already had Drew Butera, who was behind the plate for this year’s World Series victory, in-house to serve as Perez’s backup. With Cruz now in the fold, however, it’s likely that Butera will be non-tendered prior to Wednesday’s deadline, as neither he nor Cruz have minor-league options remaining.

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Martinez, a 19-year-old infielder signed out of Venezuela in 2013, doesn’t exactly jump out as a future major-leaguer, but he’ll give the Cardinals more organizational depth up the middle. Martinez, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound switch hitter, has spent most of the past two seasons with the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian League (advanced rookie level). During 2015, Martinez had 218 at-bats and hit .243/.306/.284 with one homer and 24 RBI for Burlington. He also played in six games for the Idaho Falls Chukars, also an advanced rookie team, going 6-for-22 at the plate with a homer and five RBI. Martinez has primarily been a shortstop throughout the course of his pro career, though he started nine games at second base in 2014 and two at third base in 2015.

Interestingly, he’s one of two Jose Martinezes who played in the Royals system during the 2015 season. The Cardinals seem to be getting the far less attractive prospect, as the other Jose Martinez, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound outfielder, hit .384/.461/.563 with 10 homers and 60 RBI in 341 Triple-A at-bats in 2015 and was recently added to the Royals’ 40-man roster.

Cruz is the third catcher that the Cardinals have shed from their 40-man roster this offseason, following Ed Easley and Travis Tartamella. Beyond Molina and Pena, the Cardinals still have prospect Mike Ohlman and Cody Stanley on the 40-man, though Stanley is at risk of losing his spot once he finishes an 80-game suspension early next season for violating baseball’s PED policy. Now that Cruz is officially gone, the Cardinals’ alternatives behind Molina and Pena are likely to be Ohlman and recently-signed journeyman Eric Fryer.

Next: Cardinals Sign Brayan Pena to Two-Year Deal

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