The St. Louis Cardinals traded Tony Cruz to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for rookie-ball infielder Jose Martinez, as announced by the Kansas City Royals twitter feed. The decision to let Cruz go was inevitable after the Cardinals signed Brayan Pena to a two-year contract. Cruz was arbitration-eligible and set to make roughly one million dollars next season if the Cardinals tendered him a contract. By bringing in Pena, the Cardinals options for Cruz were simple: they could not offer him a contract and let him become a free agent or they could trade him to a team willing to pay Cruz to be a backup next season. The Cardinals found a willing partner in the Royals and chose the latter.
Cruz was drafted by the Cardinals in the 26th round of the 2007 amateur draft. He made his debut in May 2011 for the Cardinals, but did not receive a lot of playing time as the backup catcher to Yadier Molina, a theme that would repeat itself over the ensuing years. Over his four seasons with the Cardinals, Cruz received a total of 633 plate appearances, and was never much with the bat in his time in St. Louis. Coaches and players generally lauded his game preparation. While he is not looking at a huge uptick in playing time with the Royals backing up Salvador Perez, that the Royals are willing to trade for Cruz is a positive development for Molina's long-time backup.
After acquiring Pena, if the Cardinals had simply non-tendered Cruz, he might have had to take minor-league deal with little to no guarantee of a spot on any team's roster. In the Royals, the Cardinals found a willing trading partner who will tender Cruz a contract before the deadline today, making it highly likely that Cruz will receive a guaranteed contract for next close to a million dollars. John Mozeliak did not have to find a landing spot for Cruz given other more pressing needs, but that he did so is a positive step taken by the Cardinals organization.
The Cardinals move was not completely charitable as they did not give away Cruz for free. The Cardinals will receive infielder Jose Martinez, a 19-year-old infielder from Venezuela who signed with the Royals in 2013 for $100,000, per Baseball America. Martinez spent most of this past season in the rookie-level Appalachian League where he hit .243/.306/.284 in 218 plate appearances. Heading into last season, Martinez appeared on Kiley McDaniel's "Others of Note" section when he profiled the Royals prospects for FanGraphs.
[S]witch-hitting 5'10/150 Venezuelan teenager fits somewhere in the middle infield long-term, has average speed and good feel for the game, so some offensive adjustments could land him on the list
Martinez is unlikely to make an impact with the Cardinals as the team is most likely taking a flyer on a player who can provide some organizational depth.
Tony Cruz is the first non-tender related departure of this offseason, but there are likely to be more to come. The deadline to offer players a contract for next season is tonight. Steve Cishek is not likely to be offered a contract and Peter Bourjos could be non-tendered or traded. The Cardinals roster continues to take shape just days before the Winter Meetings.