Rival MLB teams reportedly expect the Cincinnati Reds to deal starting pitcher Tyler Mahle ahead of Tuesday's 2022 MLB trade deadline, but there may be a catch.
ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Wednesday opposing front offices are uncertain about whether the Reds will "insist" the acquiring team also take on infielder Mike Moustakas and at least a portion of what's left on his four-year, $64 million contract in a potential Mahle trade.
Moustakas, who's making $16 million this season, is scheduled to earn $18 million in 2023 with a $20 million club option or $4 million buyout for 2024.
Mahle may not look like a marquee trade candidate because of his lackluster 4.48 ERA through 18 starts this season, but the underlying numbers paint a different story.
Most of his struggles have come on his home field, hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, where he's recorded a 4.94 ERA in 11 outings. On the road, however, he owns a far more promising 3.83 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in seven appearances.
The 27-year-old right-hander has also struck out 107 hitters in 98.1 innings in 2022. His strikeout rate across a six-year MLB career stands at a strong 9.6 per nine innings.
It suggests Mahle could provide a major boost to a contender's rotation, particularly if he lands in a more pitcher-friendly stadium.
The question for interested teams is whether that upgrade is worth possibly having to take on Moustakas, who's struggled mightily over the past two seasons.
Moustakas signed the lucrative contract with Cincinnati after a 2019 season with the Milwaukee Brewers in which he posted a career-high .845 OPS.
He remained productive in his first campaign with the Reds, compiling a .799 OPS in 44 games during the coronavirus-shortened season, but his numbers have since dropped off a cliff.
The three-time All-Star has posted a .210 batting average and .651 OPS with just 12 home runs across 128 games since the start of 2021.
Getting his salary off the books would be a major victory for the rebuilding Reds, who also count starter Luis Castillo among their trade candidates leading up to the deadline.
Yet, one rival executive told Passan it's possible the Reds will just eat the remainder of Moustakas' contract if it's going to significantly hurt the offers for Mahle and Castillo.
Since Cincinnati, which owns a 37-59 record this season, is in the prospect accumulation portion of its rebuild, the club's payroll over the next few years will likely be quite manageable. So it's not the end of the world to retain Moustakas' salary.
Either way, the Reds figure to rank among MLB's most active teams leading up to next week's deadline as they look toward the future.