In an important detail, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch adds that Munoz “left the team, flew home” without notifying the Cardinals. Manager Mike Shildt told Goold and other reporters that Munoz frequently complained about playing time last season. That’s certainly an interesting twist to the story, and it seems clear that Munoz wasn’t released for any baseball reason, but rather as a result of his own decision to excuse himself from camp.
As a matter of fact, Shildt stated that Munoz “had an inside track to a roster spot” as the team’s utilityman, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic. Munoz, 25, has fulfilled a similar role for the Cardinals in each of the last two years, and he’s by no means been an unplayable Major Leaguer. There’s value in a player who can capably man six positions on the diamond, and Munoz has been just that over his first two big league seasons. That said, it would be hard to argue that Munoz, who owns a .273/.331/.391 career slash line over roughly a season’s worth of plate appearances, is deserving of the expanded role that he apparently coveted.
That’s especially true given the presence of established veterans in the St. Louis infield, which is where Munoz fits best. He had little chance of unseating either Matt Carpenter or Paul DeJong, the incumbent starters at Munoz’s two best positions. That starting combination has garnered four All-Star selections between them. The path to playing time in an outfield corner was perhaps less crowded, but even so: the team surely prefers Tommy Edman to Munoz after the former’s standout rookie performance; Dexter Fowler showed signs of life last year, and top prospect Dylan Carlson is waiting in the wings.
Munoz has five years of team control remaining, and that youth coupled with his positional versatility could make him an attractive free-agent option for several teams. It seems unlikely that Munoz is widely viewed as a starter in the short-term, so he may have to settle for a role similar to the one he played with St. Louis. It’s also fair to ask whether teams will hesitate given the circumstances surrounding Munoz’s release.