For teams looking to make a splash, a smaller commitment could be an option if all else fails.
There’s a free agent third baseman out there that profiles as a significantly above average hitter and defender. He trails only three players in home runs at his position in the past two seasons. No, this isn’t Manny Machado. It’s the similarly alliterate name of Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas is a nice second option to those contending teams that lose out on some of the bigger names to help solidify their lineup. Admittedly bringing loads less talent and future value to the table, he’ll come cheap in free agency terms, making him the ideal alternative.
Making a case for Moustakas as a player isn’t hard. After early career struggles, he’s hit at a consistently good level for every season after 2014. The metrics say he’s solid with the glove at third despite his apparent his lack of athleticism. At worst, he may be average. He shows a versatile offensive skill set, showing that he can hit for power and contact simultaneously, all while playing his home games in one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in baseball.
But for some reason, the bullet points weren’t helping his case during the slow 2017-18 offseason. After comfortably declining a qualifying offer, he headed into the offseason with his sights set on a multi-year deal that would be closer to $100 million than $50 million. But as the offseason dreaded on and potential suitors filled up with other options, possible destinations for his services waned. And with that, so did the prospects of a big, multi-year deal. Disaster scenario for Moustakas came into reality, as he had to settle for a one-year/$6.5 million reunion with the Royals.
The nightmarish offseason didn’t let Moustakas’ performance fade in 2018 though. He put up similar value to his 2017 season, if not slightly better. Now he waits in the 2018-19 offseason with a familiar outlook to that of the end of the 2017-18 offseason for him. A free agent deal close to his last one seems like the most likely scenario.
Let’s say Moustakas does end up signing for one or two years with roughly a $6-8 million AAV. That would appear as a ‘steal’ given the value he’s accrued over the past few seasons. As mentioned above, his bat gives off the rare combination of power and contact skills.
Since 2015, only seven hitters with as many plate appearances as Moustakas have posted both a higher hard-hit rate and lower strikeout-rate: Mookie Betts, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, Buster Posey, Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, and Justin Turner.
It may also be worth mentioning that among the remaining crop of free agent hitters, Moustakas serves as one of the better options. Out of the 70 remaining free agent hitters that saw time in the big leagues last season, Moustakas has the fifth highest fWAR projection for 2019, trailing only Machado, Bryce Harper, Yasmani Grandal, and A.J. Pollock, all of whom are expected to land major multi-year deals. Only Harper, Machado, and Grandal have a higher wRC+ projection.
This now leads to the curiosity of his potential suitors. Only ten teams posted a higher wRC+ collectively at third base than Moustakas’ projected mark of 111. Standing among the bottom-feeders in that department were the Phillies (92), the Mets (74), and the Angels (70). All three of those teams figure to have playoff contention well within their sights in 2019 and all of those teams could probably find a spot for Moustakas, whether it be rotating as a reserve infielder at first base, third base, and designated hitter, or manning third base full-time
For any contending team looking to make a splash, Mike Moustakas should never be “plan A.” Though his consistency of the past few seasons, his steady glove at third, and lack of financial commitment suggest he’s the perfect alternative.