When the Red Sox were winning baseball games, which feels like years ago but was actually just a couple of weeks back and for most of the season leading up to that point, the offense was the star of the show. That’s not to say there was no help from the rotation and/or bullpen at different points in the year, but this was a roster clearly led by the bats. Even as that was happening, though, it was pretty obvious that there was a stars and scrubs thing going on, and they’d probably need some help on the periphery at one point or another.
Now, the stars are scuffling, and we’re seeing why those marginal upgrades were so important. They didn’t get the help at the deadline, and now we’re left to hope it can come internally. These aren’t the moves that will change everything on their own, but they certainly can’t hurt. And they need to start with Yairo Muñoz getting another shot in the majors.
One of the most surprising parts of last offseason on this roster, to me at least, was seeing Muñoz both go on waivers after being designated for assignment, and then not even get claimed. It was a strange sequence of events for a guy who can play all over the diamond, was good in a small sample last summer, and had been around an average hitter against big-league pitching in a more sustained sample with the Cardinals prior to 2020. It was again surprising that he barely got any consideration for a roster spot this spring, too — even when it looked like Franchy Cordero would miss the start of the year — after a good spring training.
Granted, we know that spring training stats don’t mean a lot, and given that all of the information above is public, it seemed like there had to be something I was missing. And sure enough, when the minor-league season finally got underway in May, Muñoz did not look good. Over his first 32 games, taking him about halfway into June, he was hitting just .254/.284/.341, and was basically a forgotten man in this organization. The team’s decision to basically just treat him as emergency depth made sense.
But since then, two things have happened. More recently at the big-league level, we’ve reached emergency status. And then down in Worcester, Muñoz again looked like a guy with a big-league track record. He’s currently in the midst of a 30-game hit streak, which gets the headlines, but even just going back to the day after that 32-game stretch referenced above, .344/.367/.479. It’s not a huge sample, but the 169 plate appearances is not nothing, either. It’s certainly enough, I would argue, to get him back up to the majors and try helping to turn this thing around.
Again, as we said at the top and is worth reiterating, Muñoz is not, if called up, going to be any kind of savior. He is not the kind of hitter that is going to carry a lineup. Even at his best, even during this hit streak we’re seeing now, he is not drawing walks and he only shows modest power. He is going to swing at a lot of pitches and try to put them in play and see what happens from there. Hell, in this month he has kept his hit streak alive while drawing zero walks and hitting all singles. The best-case scenario, barring absolutely bonkers luck, is probably a league-average line from Muñoz over a reasonable sample.
The thing is, an empty .300 batting average is a hell of a lot better than an empty .200 batting average, and that’s where the upgrade comes. The bottom of this Red Sox lineup in particular has had a brutal time with strikeouts, and while going down with a K is not perceived as poorly as it was even a decade ago, it still hurts. It especially hurts with runners on base, as this coaching staff has preached all year. Muñoz should make contact at at least a league-average rate, which is an upgrade for this lineup.
And the other big part of this whole equation is what we saw from Muñoz last season. I know we don’t want to think about 2020 very much around these parts, and I’m right there with you, but Muñoz was a very rare bright spot. And it’s not even really the 124 wRC+ he put up, because that was 45 plate appearances. It was nice, but it was more than the performance. Muñoz brought a spark and a life that we didn’t see from that team last year. Right now, we’re seeing a similar dejection, so why not try a similar solution?
And it’s really not that difficult to figure out how to fit him on the roster. That empty .200 batting average I just mentioned? That’s essentially what they’re getting from multiple spots on their roster. Marwin Gonzalez is hitting .201 with almost no power and a below-average walk rate. Danny Santana is hitting .171 with below-average power and a below-average walk rate. Neither of these players are worth keeping over Muñoz, who again can match their ability to play all over the diamond. Santana is one the injured list right now, but he could be taken off the 40-man with Jonathan Araúz being sent down for Muñoz. Or, Gonzalez could be DFA’d, giving Muñoz both his spot on the 40-man and on the active roster.
The point is that there is really no reason not give the utility man a spot right now. Anyone thinking he’ll be the savior needs to chill with their expectations of course, but I don’t suspect many feel that way. Instead, I think the feeling is that he could do a hell of a lot better than some of the other utility men we’ve seen this year, and that he could provide a spark that this team so desperately needs. It’s clear some sort of shakeup needs to happen before this three-game set at Fenway starts against the Rays on Tuesday. Why not go with the guy you’ve already seen fire up a slumping team who also happens to be carrying with him a 30-game hit streak?