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MLB potential trade target: Mike Moustakas

With an expiring contract on a terrible team, Moustakas should start packing his bags right away.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

If the 2017-18 offseason was a Shakespearean tragedy, Mike Moustakas would be Hamlet or Macbeth. The left-handed hitting third baseman made the All-Star team and set a Kansas City Royals record with 38 home runs. At 29 years-old, he expected to cash out with a lucrative multi-year deal in free agency. MLB Trade Rumors ranked him the #6 free agent in baseball, projecting a five-year, $85 million contract.

Our tragic hero never came close. After rejecting a qualifying offer of $17.4 million, Moustakas inexplicably found no market for his services whatsoever. Hardly any players met their expected earnings in free agency, but no one fared worse than Moose. He slunk back to Kansas City on a one-year, $6.5 million deal for 2018 (with an unlikely $15 million mutual option for 2019). He’s earning just 37.4% of the qualifying offer amount and 7.6% of his MLBTR projection.

Despite finding no legitimate suitors this winter, he’s bound to have several this month (isn’t that strange?). He’s slashing .249/.306/.466 with 19 HR this season—quite similar to his career averages of .251/.305/.430. Like many lefty batters, he’s prone to rather extreme platoon shifts: 118 wRC+ vs. right-handers and 79 wRC+ vs. left-handers.

Defensively, he’s been fairly average throughout his career (2.6 UZR/150). He has a dramatic range though (UZR range, not actual fielding range). He topped out at 13.2 UZR in 2012, but cratered to -4.5 in 2017. This year he’s holding steady at 1.9. He even expanded his versatility somewhat by starting four games at first base for the first time in his career. This might have been a shrewd move by the Royals to showcase him at an alternate position.

Speaking of the Royals, they have little reason to hold on to Moustakas or really anyone else not nailed down longterm. At 27-68, they’re percentage points lower than the Orioles in the race to be the worst team in baseball. That’s a 46-116 pace, which would be the worst season in franchise history by a good ten games. A return to glory anytime soon is extremely unlikely, so even the 2019 option on Moustakas’ contract is out of the question. (Besides, the option year almost certainly exists just to prevent him from getting a qualifying offer again this November).

As for potential suitors, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick presents a few options:

  • Atlanta Braves: The 52-42 Braves have Johan Camargo at third base, who’s platoon splits are opposite those of Moustakas. A short term rental is preferable so as not to block top prospect Austin Riley.
  • Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox own the best record in baseball at 68-30, but the Yankees are right on their tail. Rafael Devers is undoubtedly their third baseman of the future, but his .292 OBP is unacceptable for playoff contender.
  • New York Yankees: Sitting 4.5 games back of the Red Sox, and in command of the first Wild Card spot, the Yankees have no complaints about rookie third baseman Miguel Andujar’s offense. However, his -22.0 UZR/150 is the worst in MLB by any player at any position. Moustakas could platoon with Andujar and, bizarrely, serve as a defensive replacement. They might even consider him primarily at first base.

Financially speaking, Moustakas won’t be a heavy lift. Depending on when he’s traded, his new team will have to cover roughly $2.8-3 million of his contract, which includes his $1 million buyout after the season if his option isn’t picked up. This makes him all the more attractive for playoff contenders looking for a solid lefty bat at a corner infield spot.

Despite the attractively low price tag, the Royals probably won’t get a huge return for Moustakas. A decent-but-not-spectacular player on a two month rental just doesn’t bring back that many prospects. Last year’s Todd Frazier trade brought a few promising names from the Yankees to the White Sox, but there were also a two key relievers in that deal (David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle). The Adeiny Hechavarria trade from Miami to Tampa Bay brought Braxton Lee to the Marlins, but he’s not exactly a blue chip prospect and Hechavarria had more years of team control.

Of course, Moustakas might have to wait until one enourmous domino falls before he goes anywhere. The biggest name on the trade market is Manny Machado, who also plays on the left side of the infield.

Look, we’re all holding our breaths until Machado gets moved. When that finally happens, Moustakas could easily be the next big name to find a new address.

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at Tweets @depstein1983