Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Evaluating best potential fits for Moustakas

MLB.com @DKramer_

Coming off a career year, and in a thin free-agent market at third base, Mike Moustakas appeared to be in line to land one of the more hefty contracts for a position player this offseason. But this winter's stalled market, the loaded lineup hitting free agency next year and the Draft pick compensation attached to him for turning down a qualifying offer from the Royals may have created apprehension that has left the two-time All-Star unsigned as Spring Training begins.

With J.D. Martinez joining the Red Sox according to sources, Moustakas is arguably the top hitter available. He was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year last season after setting career highs in home runs (38, a Royals record), runs scored (75), RBIs (85) and slugging percentage (.521) a year removed from tearing his right ACL just 27 games into the 2016 season. He also boasts a postseason pedigree as a key cog in the Royals' back-to-back AL pennant runs in '14 and '15.

Coming off a career year, and in a thin free-agent market at third base, Mike Moustakas appeared to be in line to land one of the more hefty contracts for a position player this offseason. But this winter's stalled market, the loaded lineup hitting free agency next year and the Draft pick compensation attached to him for turning down a qualifying offer from the Royals may have created apprehension that has left the two-time All-Star unsigned as Spring Training begins.

With J.D. Martinez joining the Red Sox according to sources, Moustakas is arguably the top hitter available. He was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year last season after setting career highs in home runs (38, a Royals record), runs scored (75), RBIs (85) and slugging percentage (.521) a year removed from tearing his right ACL just 27 games into the 2016 season. He also boasts a postseason pedigree as a key cog in the Royals' back-to-back AL pennant runs in '14 and '15.

Moustakas has been linked most prominently to four clubs this offseason -- the Braves, Royals, Yankees and Cardinals. Using FanGraph's depth-chart projections, which scale each team's positional breakdown by forecasted Wins Above Replacement, here are the pros and cons of how Moustakas might fit for each of the four clubs he has been most linked to. For context, Moustakas has a 2.8 projected fWAR for 2018.

Braves
Projected 3B WAR: 1.0 (29th in MLB)
Current third basemen: Johan Camargo, Rio Ruiz, Charlie Culberson, Adonis Garcia

Pros: The Braves are on the back end of their multiyear rebuild and could be sneaky contenders in the National League East. But other than superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman, the club's positional nucleus is largely built on young talent, such as shortstop Dansby Swanson, second baseman Ozzie Albies and waiting-in-the-wings outfielder Ronald Acuna, MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect. Moustakas would bring a veteran presence and fill a power void (Atlanta finished with 165 homers in 2017, third fewest in MLB) in the club's hitter-friendly new ballpark.

Video: Moustakas earns AL Comeback Player of Year Award

Cons: Atlanta appears a year or two away from being in position to pursue high-profile free agents, and MLB.com's Mark Bowman has reported that the Braves aren't inclined to pursue Moustakas for several reasons. Once the $21.5 million in payroll expenses associated with the Matt Kemp trade in December clears, general manager Alex Anthopoulos will have roughly $50 million to spend next offseason. The Braves also have the game's No. 1 farm system, per MLB Pipeline, and conventional logic would suggest that they will attempt to rise on their cost-effective younger talent -- particularly third baseman Austin Riley, MLB Pipeline's No. 97 overall prospect, who could be Major League ready by 2019. Signing Moustakas would also cost the Braves their third-highest Draft pick.

Royals
Projected 3B WAR: 1.4 (27th in MLB)
Current third basemen: Cheslor Cuthbert, Ramon Torres, Raul Mondesi, Ryan Goins

Pros: Moustakas, the No. 2 overall pick by Kansas City in the 2007 Draft, embodied the largely homegrown Royals roster that rose through the Minors and helped the club win its first championship in 30 years in '15. He will go down as one of the most decorated players in Royals history, regardless of where he signs. But a reunion would further cement his legacy there and would fill the gaping void he left at third. The club had reportedly been more inclined to re-sign Eric Hosmer -- and had reportedly made him a nine-figure offer -- though Hosmer agreed to a deal with the Padres on Saturday, potentially creating more financial flexibility for the Royals to more aggressively turn their sights to Moustakas. There would also be no Draft pick compensation in re-signing him.

Cons: Moustakas is one of three key Royals from 2017 -- with Hosmer and center fielder Lorenzo Cain -- who hit free agency the same year. This offseason thus represented a long-envisioned date signaling a potential rebuild, which appears to be manifesting with Hosmer now in San Diego and Cain in Milwaukee. Projected at 69 wins, second fewest in the AL, with an underwhelming farm system and plenty of personnel needs elsewhere, signing costly free agents isn't within the blueprint of rebuilding clubs.

Video: Must C Classic: Moustakas hits Royals' record 37th HR

Yankees
Projected 3B WAR: 1.7 (24th in MLB)
Current third basemen: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, Ronald Torreyes

Pros: Imagine injecting Moustakas into an already lethal lineup that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Couple the versatility that Moustakas would offer with his left-handed bat and Yankee Stadium's short porch to right, and the power potential is boundless. Moustakas' 18 homers of less than 400 feet in 2017, per Statcast™, were tied for third most in MLB. And what makes Moustakas even more fitting is the Yankees' question mark at third base, which is currently projected to be manned by the promising yet inexperienced Andujar, the Yankees' No. 5 prospect who is just 22.

Cons: Moustakas would cost more than a hefty contract for New York. A lofty deal could push the Yankees over the luxury-tax threshold that they've explicitly attempted to remain under, and Moustakas would come with significant Draft pick compensation -- the Yankees would forfeit their second- and fifth-round picks, as well as $1 million in international bonus pool money, given that they exceeded the luxury tax last year. The club has also been strongly speculated to pursue Manny Machado when he becomes a free agent next offseason.

Cardinals
Projected 3B WAR: 2.6 (15th in MLB)
Current third basemen: Jedd Gyorko, Matt Carpenter, Greg Garcia, Breyvic Valera

Pros: The Cardinals entered the offseason planning to bolster their lineup, and they were linked to possible trades to do so at third base -- for Machado, Josh Donaldson and Evan Longoria -- in addition to Moustakas as a potential free-agent acquisition. They're currently in line to go with Gyorko as their primary third baseman, with Carpenter contributing, though each appears better off in a utility role. Moustakas would establish consistency. And as opposed to next year's high-profile free agents Machado and Donaldson, Moustakas would likely command a much more affordable long-term contract. Given the Cards' ambition to supplant the Cubs atop the NL Central, following their aggressive pursuit of Stanton and trading for Marcell Ozuna, Moustakas may make the most sense in St. Louis of any of the clubs listed here.

Cons: Busch Stadium isn't necessarily revered as hitter-friendly, though neither is Kauffman Stadium. However, Moustakas hit just 14 of his 38 homers at home last year. The Cardinals are believed to not want to delve into a long-term deal with Moustakas, and because they neither received revenue sharing nor exceeded the luxury tax in 2017, they would forfeit their second-highest Draft pick and $500,000 in international signing money.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Mike Moustakas