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A Moose sighting in the desert?

November 18, 2019

Mike Moustakas was as powerful as ever in 2019, bashing 35 home runs and driving in 87 while helping the Brewers reach the postseason for the second consecutive year. Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 31-year-old, who is a free agent for the third

Mike Moustakas was as powerful as ever in 2019, bashing 35 home runs and driving in 87 while helping the Brewers reach the postseason for the second consecutive year.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the 31-year-old, who is a free agent for the third straight offseason.

D-backs a possible fit for Moose?

Nov. 18: Although the D-backs traded franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt last December and ace Zack Greinke in July, they managed to remain in National League Wild Card contention late into September en route to an 85-77 finish. Could a free-agent addition help the team get over the hump and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017?

As Eno Sarris of The Athletic (subscription required) points out, the club's biggest need on offense is either in center field or at second base, depending on Ketel Marte's position. However, neither spot offers a free agent who makes Arizona's lineup markedly better.

Sarris suggests Moustakas could be an option, though that would likely require either third baseman Eduardo Escobar moving to second or Moustakas becoming the club's starting first baseman. Moustakas did log 47 games at the keystone with the Brewers last year and was adequate defensively, but it's unclear how he would hold up there over the course of a full season.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts Moustakas will sign for $10 million per year, so he presumably fits into Arizona's budget. Factoring in projected arbitration raises, Sarris notes that the D-backs should have about $15 million to spend before reaching last year's payroll mark.

Is Moose a more likely target for Philadelphia than Donaldson?

Nov. 17: Maikel Franco had another disappointing season in 2019, and Alec Bohm (MLB Pipeline's No. 34 overall prospect) is still developing in the Minors, making third base an area of need for the Phillies this offseason.

Fortunately for Philadelphia, third base is one of the strongest positions in free agency this year, with Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Moustakas on the market. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, Moustakas is "very much on the Phillies' radar." The Phils have checked in on Donaldson as well, reports MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

Either would represent a major upgrade for Philadelphia, but is one more likely than the other? Perhaps.

It will likely take a longer contract with a higher average annual value to sign Donaldson, limiting the Phillies' flexibility to make other major additions this offseason and potentially blocking Bohm at third base at least through 2022.

There's also the qualifying-offer factor. Donaldson received one from Atlanta and rejected it, meaning the Phils would need to surrender their second-highest selection in the 2020 MLB Draft as well as $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign him.

The Phillies also need rotation help, and several of the top free-agent starters -- including Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner -- rejected qualifying offers. Signing one of these hurlers in addition to Donaldson would cost Philadelphia its third-highest Draft pick as well.

The Phillies won't need to forfeit a Draft pick to sign Moustakas, and his expected cost would leave plenty of room in the budget to add a big-name arm to their rotation.

Braves like Moustakas as Donaldson backup plan

Nov. 13: Add the Braves to the teams interested in Moustakas, per a report from MLB Network insider Jon Heyman on Wednesday.

The fit makes sense. Josh Donaldson was great on his one-year deal with Atlanta in 2019, and the Braves would love to have him back, but he could sign anywhere in free agency. If the Braves can't get Donaldson, Moustakas would be a solid Plan B to take over at third base in Atlanta.

While Donaldson had the better statistical season overall, a lot of Moustakas' numbers were comparable, especially in terms of power hitting. Donaldson batted .259, slugged .521 and hit 37 home runs. Moustakas hit .254, slugged .516 and hit 35 home runs.

Here's how Moose helped himself in 2019

Nov. 13: Moustakas is obviously hoping this is the year that he can net a lucrative multi-year contract, and he might have an ace up his sleeve this offseason that he didn't have in previous winters.

Writing for The Athletic on Thursday (subscription required), MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal notes that Moustakas rated slightly above average over the 360 innings he played at second base for the Brewers in 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions' defensive runs saved metric. That could persuade teams to view Moustakas as a versatile multi-positional infielder in '20, theoretically increasing his value on the open market. Moustakas' power was never in question; his ability to man multiple spots on defense could be a differentiating factor.

Crew wants Moose back

Nov. 12: Moustakas has more than paid off for the Brewers since they traded for him in 2018 and re-signed him entering 2019 -- so it's no surprise that Milwaukee wants to bring back the third baseman again in 2020 if possible.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Brewers want to re-sign both Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal, who also signed with Milwaukee as a free agent last offseason.

Moustakas hit 43 home runs in 197 games for the Brewers after his arrival in July 2018, and he was a National League All-Star alongside Grandal in '19.

Here's what Moose can bring to a team

Nov. 10: Although Moustakas has faced a lukewarm free-agent market in each of the past two offseasons, he has continued to hit, following up a 38-homer season in 2017 with 28 home runs in '18, and socking another 35 big flies in '19.

Moustakas is on the open market again, and while he may be overshadowed by fellow free-agent third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, the 31-year-old brings a lot to the table, writes MLB.com's David Adler.

Moustakas has proven to be a consistently above-average hitter, recording a 107 OPS+ or better in each of the past five seasons (114 OPS+ overall), and his hard-hit rate and barrel rate are trending up. Moose also has shown adaptability in the field, playing 47 games at second base in 2019 after never appearing at the position previously in his professional career. His defensive metrics were right around league average as both a second baseman and a third baseman.

Could Moustakas end up in Texas?

Nov. 8: Adrian Beltre retired after the 2018 campaign, and the Rangers had trouble replacing his production at the hot corner this past season. In fact, only two teams -- the Pirates and the Tigers -- produced a lower wRC+ at the position than Texas (77) in 2019. Fortunately for the Rangers, there are several high-end third basemen on the free-agent market, including Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon was thought to be a possibility for the club, given the obvious need and the 29-year-old's ties to the Lone Star State. But MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reported earlier this week that the Rangers aren't interested in giving out a contract longer than five years, making Donaldson a more likely target.

According to ESPN's Jeff Passan,Texas is indeed showing interest in Donaldson, who is coming off a strong bounceback year with the Braves after signing a one-year, $23 million contract.

Donaldson, however, received a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer from Atlanta, and he is expected to reject it. As a result, the Rangers would need to forfeit a Draft pick to sign him. The 33-year-old also is likely to command an annual salary in the range of $25 million over three or perhaps even four years.

Given their rotation needs, the Rangers might be better suited to pursue Moustakas, who was among seven intriguing mid-level free agents Eno Sarris looked at in an article for The Athletic (subscription required) on Thursday. Sarris predicts Moustakas will end up with the Rangers for $36 million over three years, which would leave plenty of room for the team to pursue a free-agent starter or two.

Moose's versatility value

Nov. 7: While he wasn't outstanding at either position, Moustakas was solid at third base and second base for the Brewers last season, and his defensive versatility could be an underrated element of his free-agent value, according to Mark Simon in an article for The Athletic.

"He’s not going to excel in the field, but he’s not going to embarrass himself or his team either," Simon writes. "Moustakas has also played four games at first base in his career and could be viewed as comparable to someone like Max Muncy of the Dodgers."

Moose is a bat-first guy, but his defensive flexibility shouldn't be dismissed.

Moustakas lands among FanGraphs' Top 20 free agents

Nov. 4: FanGraphs' annual Top 50 free agents list was published Monday, and Moustakas came in at No. 14 on their big board rankings.

FanGraphs writer Kiley McDaniel estimates a two-year, $32 million deal for Moustakas this offseason, while the site's readership submitted a median crowdsource estimate of three years and $36 million. Fellow FanGraphs writer Rachael McDaniel writes that this is Moustakas' "best position yet to secure a favorable contract" after experiencing back-to-back disappointments in the free-agent market in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson are the only free-agent third basemen ranked ahead of Moustakas on FanGraphs' rankings.

Are Brewers set to make push to retain Grandal & Moose?

Nov. 4: With their moves on Monday, the Brewers freed up some extra cash to possibly make a push to re-sign Yasmani Grandal and Moustakas.

Milwaukee traded Chase Anderson, who had an $8.5 million team option for 2020, to the Blue Jays and declined Eric Thames' $7.5 million team option ($1 million buyout), saving about $15 million in the process.

Grandal and Moustakas earned $23 million this past season ($16 million for Grandal and $7 million for Moustakas) and received an additional $5.25 million combined in buyouts when they both declined their mutual options. After Grandal posted 5.2 FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement and Moustakas 2.8 fWAR in 2019, they each could look for a longer contract this offseason.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman suggests the Brewers' moves may also signal the intention to pursue one of the top free-agent starters.

Moustakas officially a free agent; these teams could use him

Nov. 1: Yasmani Grandal and Moustakas declined their mutual options on Friday, officially becoming free agents. Both veteran players were widely expected to do so after landing in Milwaukee on one-year deals -- Moustakas' second consecutive one-year deal -- when they did not find multiyear contracts to their liking last offseason. Brewers general manager David Stearns has not closed the door on bringing back either player.

Moustakas has strong competition on the third-base market, joining Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, among others. But there are plenty of teams that could use an upgrade at third base, and those that come up empty on Rendon and Donaldson -- or are looking for a lower-cost alternative -- could turn to Moose. The Angels, Cardinals, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, Rays and White Sox are among the clubs that could have use for the 31-year-old, in addition to the Brewers. The Nats and Braves could, too, if Rendon and Donaldson sign elsewhere.

Is adding big-name third baseman part of Phillies' offseason plans?

Oct. 30: On Tuesday, Matt Gelb reported in an article for The Athletic (subscription required) that the Phillies were proceeding with two sets of offseason plans -- one with the assumption of signing Gerrit Cole and one without.

While the rotation is Philadelphia's most pressing area of need, the club also could use an upgrade at third base, so it's fair to wonder if the team's non-Cole plans include Rendon.

The Phillies were a suitor for the top two free agents on the market last offseason, ultimately signing Bryce Harper for $330 million over 13 years, while Manny Machado went to the Padres on a 10-year, $300 million deal. Could history repeat itself, with Philadelphia acquiring another Nats All-Star?

Phillies third basemen have posted a collective 92 wRC+ over the past two seasons, ranking 21st in the Majors. Scott Kingery had a solid sophomore campaign in 2019 (101 wRC+, 2.7 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement), but the Phils may prefer to keep him in a utility role. Maikel Franco, meanwhile, is a non-tender candidate.

Cole and Rendon are both represented by agent Scott Boras, who has shown a willingness to wait out the market to get his clients the best contracts. As Gelb points out, navigating the offseason could be more difficult for the Phillies than it was a year ago, when they were able to address other positions while keeping right field and third base open as they simultaneously courted Harper and Machado. If Cole signs late, like Harper and Machado did, many of the top alternative starting pitcher options could be off the market, leaving Philadelphia in a vulnerable situation.

It might be less risky for the club to sign two veteran starters and then target Rendon as the centerpiece of its offseason. But if Cole is the Phillies' preferred choice among the top two free agents, the team could address its third-base situation by signing Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas earlier in the offseason and then making an all-out push for the ace righty.

Will Moose be back in Milwaukee in 2020?

Oct. 28: Moustakas was a huge part of the Brewers' success after he signed a one-year, $10 million deal to come back to Milwaukee, crushing 35 round-trippers while fortifying the middle of its lineup alongside Christian Yelich. The Crew initially traded for him during its 2018 run to the NLCS, and he's become a well-liked leader on the team, by all accounts.

So the big question, as Moustakas prepares to potentially enter the free-agent market a third time, is whether the Brewers can bring him back again. Surely Moustakas is hoping to fare much better than he did during his first two forays in free agency (he re-signed with the Royals for $6.5 million prior to 2018). But Milwaukee's small-market budget could make it a tough fit, particularly since the Brewers would also like to retain another free-agent-to-be in catcher Yasmani Grandal. Both players have mutual options for 2020, which they are expected to decline.

“I don’t think it’s particularly controversial that I’d love to have both of them back,” Brewers general manager David Stearns told reporters earlier this month. Milwaukee could have as many as eight free-agent decisions to make in the coming months. Moustakas is not eligible for the qualifying offer, having already received it from the Royals following the 2017 season.