The MLB All-Star with 38 Home Runs Nobody Wants to Sign

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 20, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals at bat against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 25, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Mike Moustakas is a two-time All-Star who's coming off a career-high 38 home runs and is only two years removed from winning a World Series ring. Who wants to sign him as a free agent?

...Anyone?

Apparently not. Moustakas' rung of the hot-stove rumor mill has been pin-drop quiet. So much so, in fact, that ESPN's Buster Olney heard an idea that the 29-year-old third baseman would be wise to settle for a one-year deal, potentially with the New York Yankees:

It's safe to say this isn't what Moustakas, a seven-year veteran of the Kansas City Royals, had in mind when he became a free agent.

Nor is it what hot-stove prognosticators had in mind. Projections for his contract from people like myself, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and the MLB Trade Rumors crew fell in the five-year, $80 million range.

It's worth stressing that the idea of signing a so-called "pillow contract" is just that: an idea. Everyone could wake up tomorrow to find out he'd signed a nice, fat multiyear deal at some point during the night, and that would be that.

But as far as ideas go, this one has legs.

The qualifying offer isn't helping Moustakas' market. By rejecting a deal that would have returned him to Kansas City in 2018 for a $17.4 million salary, Moustakas tied himself to draft-pick compensation. Signing him thus costs more than just money.

He's also caught up in an offseason market that's been slow-moving for all big-name free agents. Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, his potentially soon-to-be-former teammates, remain unsigned. So do J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Before the winter meetings, the easy explanation for the molasses-paced free-agent market was that teams were waiting for the Miami Marlins to trade National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton and for Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani to pick his Major League Baseball home.

After the winter meetings, it's easy to speculate that the problem is how focused big spenders like the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are on next year's free-agent class, which Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will headline.

"Next year's free-agent class is going to tempt them [and just about every club] because it might be the most star-laced ever, including Machado," Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles are peddling Machado on the trade market. There have also been rumors about Tampa Bay Rays veteran Evan Longoria and Toronto Blue Jays slugger Josh Donaldson

Beyond playing in the AL East, one thing they have in common is they're all third basemen. Moustakas therefore doesn't have the market for third base upgrades to himself.

Nor does he have center stage, as Machado, Longoria and Donaldson are frankly better than he is.

Per Baseball Reference, Moustakas was worth 1.8 wins above replacement in 2017 and has a career peak of 4.4 WAR. Machado (3.5 and 7.1), Longoria (3.6 and 8.1) and Donaldson (4.8 and 8.8) each has those numbers beat easily.

While he's typically a capable performer on defense, Moustakas is coming off a season in which he posted below-average defensive metrics. That could be just a random blip. Or it could be something more alarming.

On the other side of the ball, Moustakas' main flaw is his general inability to get on base. His career on-base percentage is just .305, and he's had an above-average OBP in a season just once.

This leaves power as Moustakas' best selling point. He earned the 38 homers he hit in 2017 by making better use of the strength bundled into his 6'0", 215-pound frame. Like many hitters throughout MLB, he hit fewer balls on the ground and more in the air. That's obviously the most direct avenue to power.

However, home runs suddenly aren't as valuable as they once were. Whereas dingers were few and far between as recently as 2014, a record number of balls cleared the fence in 2017.

For Moustakas, the insult to injury is that third base has been one of the biggest gainers in home runs over the last four years. Via Baseball Reference:

So the idea about taking a one-year deal with the Yankees? Beyond being one that has legs, it's indeed a good one.

He's not only primarily a fly-ball hitter but primarily a pull hitter as well. At Kauffman Stadium, he didn't play in a park that catered to such hitters. At Yankee Stadium, he most certainly would. 

Consider a plot from Baseball Savant that shows all the fly balls and line drives that Moustakas ever hit at Kauffman Stadium overlaid onto Yankee Stadium, which reveals something to be gained from a move from one to the other:

Image courtesy of BaseballSavant

Whether it's with the Yankees or someone else—say, the San Francisco Giants or the St. Louis Cardinals—Moustakas has other incentives to take a one-year contract.

The newest collective bargaining agreement contains a change to the qualifying offer rules that bars players from receiving an offer more than once. Moustakas has already received his, so taking a one-year offer would allow him to re-enter the market next year without any ties to draft-pick compensation.

On the downside, this would mean sharing the free-agent market with Machado and Donaldson. On the plus side, there will be more money to be had next winter. The luxury-tax threshold will increase from $197 million in 2018 to $206 million in 2019. That gives the big spenders (especially the Yankees and Dodgers) more breathing room.

As of now, Moustakas' free-agent saga is a bummer and a bore. But give it enough time, and it should have a happy ending.

            

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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