THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Adolis Garcia made all of Houston hurt.
There was collateral damage.
Garcia made the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans feel the pain for the organization’s decision to sell him to Texas for cash considerations on Dec. 21, 2019. The St. Louis front office made the move to open a spot on the 40-man roster after signing free-agent pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim out of South Korea.
In the seven-game ALCS Garcia wrecked the Astros for five homers, 15 RBI, and a .357 batting average. His 15 runs batted in were the most by a player in a league championship series, an event that dates back to 1969.
With the Texas Rangers trailing the Astros in the series – three games to two – Garcia took over the final two games at Minute Maid Park. He had five hits in 10 at-bats, smashed three home runs, and drove in nine runs. With Garcia picking up his bat to play some power rock, the Rangers surged in both must-win games, outscoring Houston 20-6 in the process.
In his final 11 at-bats in this ALCS, Garcia homered four times and drove in 11 runs. In the Game 7 triumph Garcia went 4 for 5 with two homers and five RBIs – yes, that’s right … Garcia drove in more runs on his own than Houston scored in nine innings. He was voted series MVP, and I don’t think there was a need for a recount.
Garcia has seven homers and 20 RBIs in 12 games and three rounds of playoff wins. He’s pulling off a David Freese, who owned October in 2011. With two RBI in the World Series, Garcia would break Freese’s record for most RBI (21) in a single postseason.
So much for the Astros for their attempt to rattle Garcia in Game 5. After he’d blasted a two-run homer in the sixth inning to give Texas a 4-2 lead, Astros reliever Bryan Abreu hammered him on the first pitch of his next at-bat. This turned Garcia into a raging bull that rammed the Astros out of the tournament and into the offseason grieving phase.
“When you wake Adolis up, you better be careful, you’re playing with fire there,” Texas catcher Jonah Heim told reporters covering the ALCS. “He came in with some vengeance and something to prove, and I think he did just that.”
In fairness to the Cardinals, the Rangers gave up on Garcia after he’d gone hitless in seven at-bats with four strikeouts in the shortened 2020 season. In February 2021, the Rangers designated Garcia for assignment to create a roster spot for pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. But Garcia cleared waivers – 29 teams passed – and Texas assigned the right fielder to their Triple A affiliate. When the Rangers were torn by injuries in the 2021 spring training camp, Garcia was added back to the big-league roster for his second chance.
Baseball analyst Joe Sheehan offers this history and some perspective on Garcia’s career at that time.
Here’s Sheehan’s take: “The Rangers turned to Garcia because at that point, it was him or Oddibe McDowell (joking). Even then, Garcia needed Leody Taveras and David Dahl to tank to be assured of playing time. Garcia struck out 24 times against three walks that April, but he was in the majors for good. I go through all this because dragging the Cardinals into this story is a distraction. Adolis Garcia wasn’t some hidden gem the team gave up on, he was a 26-year-old prospect with terrible plate discipline. The Rangers didn’t know something the Cardinals didn’t; they were set to part ways with him about a year later. They traded for Khris Davis, gave Garcia’s 40-man roster spot to Mike Foltynewicz, and made Ronald Flipping Guzman an outfielder instead of playing Garcia. Those are not the actions of a team that knows something.”
Since the start of the 2021 season, Garcia’s 97 home runs are tied for 11th in the majors. Only three MLB outfielders have homered more often: Aaron Judge, Kyle Schwarber and Yordan Alvarez.
Garcia is called “El Bombi” and seems like a perfect nickname — but it has nothing to do with home runs. He was given the name because some boyhood friends said his head was shaped like a light bulb.
Well, the light bulb went on and shined bright after Adolis got his first real shot at playing in the majors. In his three seasons at Texas, Garcia has averaged 32 homers, 99 RBI, 17 steals and slugged .472. This season he walloped 39 home runs and knocked in 107 runs. Garcia is collecting honors. He was selected to the American League All-Star team for the second time in three years, and he’s a finalist for the 2023 AL Gold Glove in right field. The ALCS showcase will make Garcia a bigger star.
“What he did is truly amazing, and how he recovered with that (hit-by-pitch) incident and came in here and took great at-bats,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s just a talented guy that — I’m not surprised by anything. Defensively, offensively we’re lucky to have him.”
The Cardinals signed Garcia out of Cuba after he played in Japan and defected. Alarmed by his extreme strikeout rate in the minors, the Cardinals never gave him anything close to a full opportunity with the big club. They were willing to move on from his immense raw power, speed, and rocket arm in right field. Garcia knows what it’s like to be rejected but he never let it bring him down. He kept working until a team – the Rangers – finally and belatedly showed belief in him. I don’t think the Cardinals or Rangers were wrong to be alarmed by Garcia’s poor plate discipline. But he got a chance to play in 2021 — the Rangers has a shortage of available and viable outfielders — and started putting things together.
Just look at him now.
“It really means a lot,” he said in the interview room after Game 7. “Personally I know the struggle that I went through. The struggles that we go through when we’re trying to leave (Cuba), play outside baseball. And I know everything I had to go through and the struggle just to get where I am today, so I’m really grateful for that.”
The Cardinals have absorbed an enormous amount of criticism for pulling the plug on Garcia and trading outfield prospect Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay for pitcher Matthew Liberatore.
The sad thing is, Garcia and Arozarena never really got a chance with the Cardinals, who preferred to invest their patience in other outfielders who didn’t (or haven’t) delivered as expected. The Redbirds didn’t think Garcia was ready for the majors. And the Rangers — until they had no other options — obviously felt the same way. Arozarena was more prepared for MLB success, but manager Mike Shildt didn’t like him, and hardly played him after a call-up from Memphis.
The bottom line?
The Cardinals bet on the wrong horses.
Garcia had only 17 plate appearances as a Cardinal in 2018. Arozarena had 23 plate appearances for the Cardinals late in 2019. That’s only 40 combined PA between the two talented outfielders who became postseason heroes and All-Stars for their new teams. That’s truly unfortunate. Put it this way: Austin Dean and Ben DeLuzio got more combined at-bats for St. Louis than Arozarena-Garcia.
(By the way, you could add outfielder Lane Thomas to the list – he’s homered 45 times for Washington over the last two seasons – but I have no real complaints. At least Thomas got 84 games and 142 plate appearances as a Cardinal. That isn’t much – but Thomas got more of a look than Garcia and Arozarena. And the Cardinals desperately needed starting pitching when they flipped Thomas to Washington for Jon Lester at the 2021 trading deadline. And Lester helped the Cardinals get to the postseason. It’s not his fault that they didn’t hit and lost the wild-card game to the Dodgers.)
My focus is on Arozarena and Garcia and the St. Louis outfield since the Cardinals made their decisions.
Let’s look at some numbers and comparisons:
– Since leaving the Cardinals the two friends and fellow Cubans have combined for 885 hits, 183 doubles, 16 triples, 167 homers, 550 RBI, 549 runs, and 128 stolen bases in the regular-season play.
– Meanwhile, since the start of the 2020 season – with Garcia and Arozarena no longer around – the Cardinals have given 8,389 plate appearances to other outfielders. Those outfielders have combined for a .246 average, .322 onbase percentage and .413 slug. Their collective .735 OPS ranks 15th among MLB outfield delegations over the last four seasons.
– Since the start of 2020, Arozarena and Garcia have a combined 22 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in their 924 games after being discarded by St. Louis. The entire parade of outfielders had 31.3 WAR over the same time span.
– The four outfielders that played the most for the Cardinals since the start of 2020 – Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, Lars Nootbaar and Harrison Bader – combined for 25.2 WAR. They collectively played in 1,817 games.
– Another way to put it: over the last four seasons the four busiest St. Louis outfielders amassed only 3.2 more WAR than Arozarena and Garcia – despite playing in 893 more games than the two former Cardinals.
Wait. It gets worse.
Prepare to wince:
– In 97 postseason plate appearances from 2020 through 2022, the St. Louis outfield has collectively batted .220 with a .330 onbase percentage and a .280 slug. That’s a weak .610 OPS. Moreover, the group produced only one homer, six RBI and struck out 29 percent of the time. Just awful. No wonder why this team went 1-5 in the playoffs in the three postseasons.
– In only 161 combined postseason at-bats over that time, Arozarena and Garcia have batted .342 with 18 homers, 37 RBI, a .722 slugging percentage and a 1.120 OPS. Arozarena was the MVP of the 2020 ALCS. Garcia was the MVP of the 2023 ALCS. And both players led their teams to the World Series.
At least the Cardinals have 21-year-old corner outfielder Jordan Walker to build around, and Nootbaar is a good all-around player. So at least the front office has a chance to recover from the two colossal mistakes.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.