Free Agent Stock Market Crash: Mike Moustakas

This has been a weird offseason for the free agent market. I can’t remember a year with this much Major League talent left unsigned at this point in Spring Training. Among the headliners are Cy Young winner Jake Arietta, quality pitchers in Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, and two time All-Star third baseman Mike Moustakas.

Moustakas was a key bat for the 2015 World Series winning Royals team and has been a pretty steady power bat at the hot corner for a few years now. “The Moose” peaked with a 4.4 bWAR in 2015, but cranked 38 home runs just last year. Despite his power, Moustakas’ bWAR was only 1.8 last year because of his incredibly troubling .314 OBP. At age 29 his defense has started to regress and he missed almost all of 2016 with a torn ACL which almost certainly has restricted his range. But any other year in the past there would have been an all out bidding war for this type of bat. Which begs the question: why is he still available? Below I’ll give a breakdown on which teams he would fit on and what teams just don’t have room.

Teams with clearly better third baseman

Boston Red Sox (Rafael Devers)
Chicago Cubs (Kris Bryant)
Cleveland Indians (Jose Ramirez)
Colorado Rockies (Nolan Arenado)
Houston Astros (Alex Bregman)
LA Dodgers (Justin Turner)
Philadelphia Phillies (Maikel Franco)
San Fransisco Giants (Evan Longoria)
Seattle Mariners (Kyle Seager)
Toronto Blue Jays (Josh Donaldson)
Washington Nationals (Anthony Rendon)

These teams just don’t need another third baseman.

Teams with incumbent third baseman that probably won’t spend

Arizona Diamondbacks (Jake Lamb)
Cincinnati Reds (Eugenio Suarez)
Detroit Tigers (Nick Castellanos)
LA Angels (Zack Cozart)
Milwaukee Brewers (Tyler Shaw)
Minnesota Twins (Miguel Sano)
New York Mets (Todd Frazier)
New York Yankees (Brandon Dury)
San Diego Padres (Chase Headley)
St. Louis Cardinals (Jed Gyorko)
Texas Rangers (Adrian Beltre)

Until I started thumbing through rosters, I didn’t realize that third base was such a stacked position. Given Moustakas’ below average defense at the hot corner, he may need to switch to first base or DH full time to even land a job. Considering 809 of his 836 career games have been played at third base, I can understand why there would be hesitation in a position switch. At this point it just wouldn’t make sense for any team above to commit any remaining budget Moustakas at this point in the offseason.

Will Not Spend

Oakland A’s
Miami Marlins
Pittsburgh Pirates
Tampa Bay Rays

In 2013, the Houston Astros had an Opening Day payroll of $26 million and cut it even further to $13 million by the end of the year. After years of contention backed by a roster featuring Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, Roy Oswalt and Craig Biggio, the Astros cleaned house by slashing payroll and tanking their way to high draft picks that would eventually lead to the 2017 World Series.

The problem today is that the MLB seems to have four teams that are all in a payroll slashing Mexican standoff. It makes it tough for players like Moustakas when four teams with roster vacancies will not offer you anywhere close to market value, especially when the rest of the league is flush with third basemen. Teams are just too smart with their money now and it’s kind of bullshit. I need Tony La Russa back in a front office with a fresh chequebook and the greenlight. Give me chaos.

Potential fits

Atlanta Braves
Baltimore Orioles
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals

None of these teams are considered serious contenders in 2018. Hell they’ll be hard pressed to even threaten for the playoffs. But if Moustakas and agent Scott Boras lower their asking price to a one year “show me” deal, all four of these teams have the budget space to take on the Moose.

If he were to sign with a semi-competitive Braves squad, Moustakas can help bridge the gap and buy some time for top Austin Riley who is ranked by the MLB as the 97th ranked prospect in baseball. The same logic can be applied to the White Sox and their potential need for a stop gap for Jake Burger.

I feel that the best fits available would be the Orioles or the Royals who both have a shot at the American League’s second Wild Card. If Moustakas was to return to the Royals, it would be a last gasp for that 2015 World Series team that has already seen Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto move on. A lot would have to go right to see the Royals anywhere close to the postseason, but if Moustakas retuens to has +4 WAR form then he would certainly help.

As a Jays fan I am worried that a buy-low Moustakas transaction has Baltimore written all over it. With Machado moving to shortstop for the year the Moose would be a perfect fit for the hot corner. And with dumpster diver Dan Duquette’s recent success with buy-low power hitters like Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez (at least in his first season), Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis. Moustakas on a one year deal seems like the perfect marriage for an Orioles team looking to capitalize on the last year of superstar Manny Machado’s contract. They probably have more use for a pitcher, but with a deep bullpen and a cadre of sluggers, Baltimore’s lineup would be pretty formidable with a 38 home run hitter just plugged into the middle of the lineup at the last second.

Moustakas and agent Scott Boras definitely overestimated the power hitter market. The Moose’s 38 home run explosion came in a year where everyone was seemingly putting up gaudy home run totals. It doesn’t bode well that Logan Morrison was worth twice the bWAR last year (3.6 vs. Moustakas’ 1.8) but only managed a one year $5.5 mil with a second year team option with the Twins earlier this offseason.

In the mean time, Moustakas will just have to play the waiting game.

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