By Jon Ince, from Cardsblog.com
The Cardinals will likely carry a four-man bench into the regular season. One of those spots is guaranteed to Carson Kelly and another belongs to Jose Martinez. At least one of the remaining spots will go to a utility infielder. Should that spot belong to Greg Garcia or Yairo Muñoz?
If Muñoz were not the breakout bat this spring training, Greg Garcia would be the easy choice. However, Muñoz has played his way into the conversation. So, let’s breakdown how each player compares.
I personally believe that Greg Garcia is under-appreciated when it comes to his offensive production. Despite irregular playing time, he posted a wRC+ of 94 last year and a wRC+ of 112 the previous year. Although power might not be in his profile, he produces value by getting on base, exemplified by his .365 OBP in 2017 and his .393 OBP in 2016.
Furthermore, Garcia is a Left-handed batter and would be one of only 4 players capable of batting lefty. As you would expect, he bats well against right-handed pitching, posting a career wRC+ of 110 vs righties. The one real knock on Garcia’s offense is his ability against left-handed pitchers. He has a career wRC+ of 57 against lefties, and has not shown signs of improving in that area.
Yairo Muñoz is more or less the opposite of Greg Garcia offensively. Despite not striking out much, Muñoz does not walk much either; he recorded a BB% of just over 4% last year in AA and AAA. His value comes from putting the ball in play with power. Last year, Muñoz rocked an isolated slugging of .217 leading to a 140 wRC+ in AA.
The biggest concern with having Muñoz on the Cardinal’s bench is the fact that he is a right-handed batter. It’s safe to say that the Cardinals are not looking for another right-handed batter. Aside from his handiness, there is not much to dislike about Muñoz’s offensive profile.
As of Friday, the Cardinals have played eight games in Jupiter, Florida for Spring Training and have a 3-4 record in those games (with 1 tie). As most baseball fans know, a player's or team's performance in spring training is usually not indicative of things to come in the regular season.
Greg Garcia plays three positions, 3rd base, short stop, and 2nd base. The Cardinals don’t necessarily need Garcia to play 1st base because Jedd Gyorko can slide over to play 1st base.
Yairo Muñoz can play six positions and played all six of them last year. He plays 3rd base, short stop, 2nd base, and all three outfield positions. He actually played more center field than he played a corner outfield spot, which is fascinating. Yairo Muñoz is clearly the more versatile player between the two.
Garcia’s defense is solid at all three positions that he plays. UZR has rated him above average defensively at shortstop for the last two seasons. Although not known for great arm strength or range, Garcia plays with solid instincts and does not commit many errors. The defense certainly does not lose a step when he’s on the field.
Muñoz has less range than Garcia, but makes up for it with a cannon for an arm. Muñoz profiles as a better defensive 3rd baseman than Garcia, but a worse 2nd baseman. The Jury is still out on his outfield defense, but if the Cardinals and the Athletics’s put him out there, he must have some aptitude. Then again, the Cardinals were fine trying Matt Adams in left field as well.
Entering his final year before arbitration, Garcia will turn 29 in August. He is likely past his prime, but not at an age where you would worry about his health or productivity being affected. Additionally, Garcia is a player that the Cardinals drafted and developed. The organization has shown a preference and appreciation for homegrown talent.
Only a month removed from his 23 birthday, Muñoz has yet to play in a major league game. He will not reach arbitration for another 3 years and is expected to start the year in AAA.
Most importantly, Greg Garcia is out of minor league options. So, if the Cardinals decide to leave him off the 25-man roster, Garcia would likely be traded. Muñoz, on the other hand, could spend a year in the minors without impacting the 25-man roster.
Considering Garcia’s handiness, defensive aptitude, and contract situation, he is the choice for this season. Even excluding the contact, the fact that Garcia is a known contributor puts him ahead of Muñoz this year. Next year, provided that Muñoz stays productive, could be the year he makes the 25-man roster.
There is always the possibility that Muñoz places himself ahead of Jose Martinez, or even makes the team as the 4th outfielder. Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, and Marcell Ozuna have all been or will be starting center fielders, which allows the Cardinals to be creative with their 4th outfielder.
If Muñoz keeps swinging the bat like he has, I would have no reservations about him making the 25-man roster. Even if he does not make the opening day roster, he has placed himself ahead of Alex Mejia and Valera as the first infield call-up.