Two years ago, Mike Moustakas hit 38 home runs (then a Royals record), and MLB Trade Rumors predicted he would sign a five year, $85 million contract. He settled for a one year, $6.5 million disappointment. Then he smashed 28 more dingers... and received another one year deal.
Now, he finally gets the long-term deal he deserves, signing with the Cincinnati Reds for four years, $64 million.
If we don’t overthink it, this makes plenty of sense. Moustakas is a good player, and the Reds don’t have enough of them. They finished 75-87 in 2019, and haven’t posted a winning record since 2013. Their team wRC+ was 94 last year (excluding pitchers), and they finished 11th in the NL in home runs despite playing in a ballpark the size of a kiddie pool.
As it happens, home runs are Moustakas’ specialty. He’s one of 15 players with 100 or more since 2017. He’s not a perfect player by any means— his career 7.0 percent walk rate is the main culprit for his .310 on base percentage. He just turned 31, and will be under contract through his age-34 season. Regardless, he’s a fairly consistent average-to-above average everyday player, and those are valuable— especially to a team like the Reds.
The curious part is where he fits defensively. Eugenio Suárez is the regular third baseman, and he was responsible for 49 of the team’s 225 home runs last year. He’s their best player (sorry Joey Votto!) and will be under contract for six more years. Unless they want to move him back to shortstop— which... no— we have a positional conflict.
A few weeks ago, I analyzed the third base market and predicted that free agents at the hot corner would have a tough go of it. I found only three teams in need of a third baseman who might be willing to sign one. With Suárez in their lineup, the Reds weren’t on the list.
Then again, if I had made that list last year, the Brewers wouldn’t have made it either. They had Travis Shaw coming off a fantastic season, and re-signed Moustakas anyway. Before Shaw went down with injuries and Sudden Bad at Baseball Syndrome, the Brewers deployed Moose as their regular second baseman.
At six-foot and 225 pounds, Moustakas hardly profiles as an up-the-middle defender. With 25.7 ft/s sprint speed, he ranks in the back half of third basemen. At second base, only five players were slower: Scooter Gennett, Joe Panik, Yangervis Solarte, Dustin Pedroia, and Robinson Canó. None of those players rate well defensively at second, and they have the benefit of spending their whole careers there, whereas Moustakas is a transplant.
The 47 games he played at the keystone last season are way too small of a sample to bother much with defensive stats. For what it’s worth, he finished with 0 DRS and -0.1 UZR, so by those metrics he was average.
Apparently, the Reds liked his second base defense enough to grant him a four-year deal. They could have easily filled this hole internally by moving Nick Senzel there. Instead, he probably becomes a permanent outfielder.
On the other hand, baseball is trending more and more towards positionless defense. With shifting becoming increasingly advanced, the Reds could consider some truly radical alignments. Instead of defining players by their nominal position, it may be better to just think of their strengths and weakness, then station them accordingly with respect to the batter.
Even if they don’t go crazy on defense, I’ll say again that we should not overthink it. The Reds need more good players, especially ones who can hit the ball out of the park. Moustakas checks those boxes. That probably matters more than any of the other factors that make this an unnatural marriage.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.