Mike Moustakas is the best left-side infielder available on this year's free-agent market, and having turned 29 in September, he's looking for what is most likely going to be the biggest contract of his career. But where? Working against Moustakas is that third base is deep in superstars right now;
Mike Moustakas is the best left-side infielder available on this year's free-agent market, and having turned 29 in September, he's looking for what is most likely going to be the biggest contract of his career. But where? Working against Moustakas is that third base is deep in superstars right now; working in his favor is that Todd Frazier is the only comparable third baseman on the market.
Moustakas hit a career-high 38 home runs in 2017, setting a team record, and over the past three years, he's established himself as an above-average hitter and a capable defender, and he was a key member of Kansas City's 2015 World Series-winning team. So where does he end up?
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As we did with Moustakas' Royals teammate Eric Hosmer, let's count down the potential suitors in groups.
Teams with stars at third base
Kristopher Bryant, Cubs
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Justin Turner, Dodgers
Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Alex Bregman, Astros
Manny Machado, Orioles
Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
Evan Longoria, Rays
Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo, Rangers
In no particular order, these nine teams are extremely well-off at third base. Moustakas is a fine player; it's just not going to be for any of these clubs.
Teams with good-enough third basemen
Kyle Seager, Mariners
Jake Lamb, D-backs
Eugenio Suarez, Reds
Travis Shaw, Brewers
If you want to argue that Seager or Lamb should really have been in the previous category, that's fine, but either way, it's unlikely that Seattle or Arizona will go after Moustakas. Did you notice how good Suarez (.260/.367/.461, 26 homers) and Shaw (.273/.349/.513, 31 homers) were this year? Good enough to not have Cincinnati or Milwaukee spending at third base, anyway.
Teams with young third basemen
Matt Chapman, A's
Rafael Devers, Red Sox
Miguel Sano, Twins
It's difficult to conclusively say that Chapman (326 plate appearances, 14 homers, near-elite defense) or Devers (240 plate appearances and a line of .284/.338/.482) are proven commodities, yet they each showed enough in 2017 that their teams are probably set at the hot corner.
It's a little different for the powerful Sano, who has proven himself to be a stellar bat (.264/.352/.507) and a surprisingly capable defender, yet he missed most of the last two months with a leg injury that required surgery. Most assume that DH is in his future, though he's still only 24, which might make a potential move (freeing up room for Moustakas) premature.
Unique third-base situations in Cleveland and Miami
Depending on how the other dominoes fall, the Indians either have an American League MVP Award candidate at third base (Jose Ramirez), or they have a pair of interesting but unproven young players (the strong glove of Giovanny Urshela and the intriguing power of Yandy Diaz). Does Jason Kipnis return to second base, pushing Ramirez to third? Or will Kipnis be in center field, with Ramirez at second? Or will Kipnis get traded? Is Michael Brantley an outfielder or a first baseman/DH type? There's a version of this where Moustakas is a good fit, it's just a complicated situation right now.
In Miami, the Marlins have veteran Martin Prado, who suffered through hamstring and knee injuries throughout 2017, but even if he ends up being dealt, then Brian Anderson, the team's No. 3 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, who reached the Majors in September, could step in. This is an in-flux roster that's probably not in the Moustakas mix.
Rebuilders who are probably set at third base
Yolmer Sanchez, White Sox
Jeimer Candelario, Tigers
Cory Spangenberg, Padres
Maybe Sanchez, Spangenberg and Candelario don't excite you, but Sanchez and Spangenberg had pretty capable seasons, and Candelario just turned 24 and was the prize of last summer's trade of Justin Wilson and Alex Avila. These clubs are making steps toward the future and seem unlikely to make a big free-agent splash this offseason.
Rebuilders who might make a big splash at third base
These two clubs, however, might be ready to make moves. The Phillies' young core was quietly impressive in the second half, but Maikel Franco's second straight subpar season (.242/.294/.418 in 2016-17) might make third base a spot worth upgrading.
The Braves have a strong farm system and a desire to get back in the race quickly, though most of their best prospects are pitchers. (After No. 1 overall prospect Ronald Acuna, their next seven ranked by MLBPipeline.com are arms.) Remember, they even tried Freddie Freeman at third base for part of 2017, so Rio Ruiz and Jace Peterson wouldn't be roadblocks here.
Big-market team that needs placeholder, not building block
The Yankees made it clear that they wanted a hot-corner upgrade last summer when they traded for Frazier, and now that he's a free agent, it seems unlikely they'll stick with Chase Headley again. Moustakas would be an improvement over Headley, yet the Yanks seem to have bigger things in mind at third base. Top prospect Gleyber Torres is expected to be recovered enough from elbow surgery to make an impact in 2018, even if not by Opening Day, and he could shift from shortstop to third in deference to Didi Gregorius. Additionally, the Yankees are expected to be one of the teams heavily in the mix for Machado, assuming he becomes a free agent as scheduled next offseason, making Moustakas less of a fit here.
Still-possible return home
It's possible that the Royals lose Moustakas, Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain to free agency, but it's conceivable they keep at least one of them. Cheslor Cuthbert (.231/.275/.322 in 2017) isn't a roadblock to Moustakas' return, so while this feels less likely than Hosmer coming back, it's not out of the question.
Teams Moustakas could really help
These are five hopeful contenders with infield questions. The Giants are reportedly trying hard to trade for Giancarlo Stanton, but if they don't get him, it's easy to see them trying to improve upon Pablo Sandoval, Christian Arroyo or Ryder Jones at third. The Pirates aren't likely to give Moustakas the contract he desires, yet they are listed here anyway because David Freese (35 in April) profiles better off the bench than as an everyday starter, and Jungho Kang, just released by his winter league team, probably can't be relied upon.
For the Mets, Frazier may be the more likely fit, but either way, they could use the bat in their lineup, and current incumbent Asdrubal Cabrera can contribute at several infield spots. The Cardinals, like the Giants, would like Stanton, but they might have third base in mind as a Plan B, since Jedd Gyorko can play second and short as well, and unlike trading for Donaldson, Moustakas would cost only money and a Draft pick, not prospects.
On paper, the Angels are probably the most obvious match for Moose. They want badly to get into the playoffs with Michael Trout still at his peak, and giving Justin Upton a contract extension was a good start. Why stop there? With Yunel Escobar a free agent, the Halos' current third baseman is Luis Valbuena, who put up a pedestrian .199/.294/.432 line in 2017, and there's not a single third baseman among MLBPipeline.com's Top 30 Prospects. While you shouldn't put too much emphasis on the fact that Moustakas grew up in Southern California, it's not nothing, either.
The Angels could decide that Moustakas' career .305 OBP is a bad fit for a team that finished 11th in the AL in that category, but otherwise he would fill what appears to be a big hole in the Halos' 2017 lineup.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.