Musing on slow-moving market for Moose

Several factors could be cooling pursuit of free-agent 3B

January 20th, 2018

Mike Moustakas finished last season with 38 home runs, setting a Royals franchise record. He entered the offseason with expectations of an exciting offseason filled with teams eagerly vying for his services.
Yet here we are in mid-January and the third baseman -- like many other prominent free agents -- remains unsigned. So where will Moustakas wind up?
There are a number of reasons why the market for the 29-year-old appears fairly limited: the trade market, the qualifying offer and the star-studded free-agent class expected to hit the market next offseason. Not to mention the game is currently loaded with elite third basemen.
Let's break down where things stand with Moose:
The trade market
The Giants were in the market for a third baseman this offseason, and while Moustakas was continually connected to San Francisco early in the offseason, general manager Bobby Evans opted instead to acquire from the Rays.
The Cardinals have reportedly spent a lot of time trying to pry Josh Donaldson away from the Blue Jays, while several teams have been trying to deal for Orioles star Manny Machado. With names such as those floating around as possibilities (no matter how remote), it makes sense that teams would continue to exhaust those options before turning to free agents such as Moustakas or .
The qualifying offer
Moustakas rejected the Royals' qualifying offer, which would have paid him $17.4 million in 2018 had he accepted. Given the industry-wide expectations for his contract -- many, including's Jim Duquette, projected Moustakas to land a deal worth $80 million to $100 million over five or six years -- it was no surprise that he rejected the qualifying offer.
The new rule changes regarding Draft-pick compensation prevent any teams signing free agents from losing their first-round Draft pick, but for some teams, bringing in a player such as Moustakas still comes at a hefty price.
The Yankees, as a team that exceeded the luxury tax threshold in 2017, would have to give up their second- and fifth-highest selections from the 2018 Draft as well as $1 million of their international bonus pool to sign Moustakas. So even if the third baseman decided to roll the dice and sign a one-year deal, it's extremely unlikely that the Yanks -- who don't have an established third baseman -- would give up two Draft picks and the bonus pool money to sign a player to a short-term contract.
Qualifying offer rules explained
Frazier and , on the other hand, do not have Draft-pick compensation attached, making them far more attractive options for the Yankees if they can sign either to a short-term deal.
Wait 'til next year … or the year after that
For teams looking to add a big-money third baseman, next year's free-agent market looks to be quite appealing. Both Machado and Donaldson are set to become free agents next offseason, while and are slated to hit the open market after the 2019 season.
Locking up the third-base spot with a player such as Moustakas might not make sense for a club that is looking ahead at future free-agent classes, which could mean shorter-term offers for him.
One executive suggested that a team could get creative with an offer, giving Moustakas a deal similar to the one the Mets gave ($39 million over three years) with an opt-out clause after either the first or second year. That would give Moustakas an opportunity to hit the market again at age 30 or 31, though he would then be competing for contracts with the four previously mentioned stars.

Great expectations
According to a source, teams expressed early interest in Moustakas but had second thoughts after hearing his asking price. The Angels had been frequently tagged as a potential destination for Moustakas, but Los Angeles moved quickly (well, quickly for this market, anyway) and signed Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million contract to fill its hole at third base.
"He's a solid player, but not a star," one general manager said. "When you see what Bruce got from the Mets, it's hard to see Moustakas getting more than that."
Despite Moustakas' power surge last year -- his 38 homers were 16 more than his previous career high -- he had an uninspiring .314 on-base percentage to raise his career OBP to .305. Although that .314 mark was the second highest of his career, his walk rate was down thanks to a .272 batting average that was 25 points higher than his lifetime average prior to 2017.
Bottom line
A return to Kansas City seems possible, especially if the Royals are unable to successfully bring back . Aside from Kansas City, the Braves and Mets are two other logical candidates, though it's unlikely that either will give Moustakas the type of deal he may have envisioned when the offseason began.