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The Royals could help Mike Moustakas land a $50 million contract

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All it takes is being willing to take on a bad contract

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Moustakas is still a free agent, coming off a season in which he posted a career-best and Royals franchise record 38 home runs. Given that Kauffman Stadium is not the most home run friendly park, and that Moose had various knee issues near the end of the season, you’d think he’d have something of a market. However, as with many of the free agents in this class, Moose has had a hard time finding a home in 2018.

I don’t think I was alone in assuming that the Los Angeles Angels made too much sense for Moose at the beginning of the offseason. The Angels needed a third baseman, Moose is from LA, Moose plays third base. Boom. Sold. Then the Angels signed former Reds infielder Zack Cozart to play third base and all of a sudden Moose’s market seemed small at best.

The New York Yankees seem like a good fit, but have made it very clear this offseason that their goal is to be under the $197 million luxury tax. As it currently stands, their payroll projects to be in the range of $164-170 million for the 2018 season. This gives them a little bit of payroll flexibility, but there is a contract on their books that is really crippling the Yankees at the moment.

After the 2013 season, Jacoby Ellsbury signed a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees worth $153 million (and we wonder why GMs don’t want to hand out big contracts). For the next three seasons, Jacoby Ellsbury will be owed over $21 million per year according to Spotrac. Last year Ellsbury owned a slash line of .264/.348/.402 with seven home runs and 22 stolen bases in 112 games. Not awful, but not worth $21 million a year either. Ellsbury will be 35 before the season ends and he’s crippling the Yankees payroll while the club has Aaron Hicks who is more than capable of holding down centerfield.

Mike Moustakas makes all the sense in the world to play third base for the New York Yankees in 2018, but not if they can’t “afford” him. He’s a left-handed power hitter they could slot between or behind Stanton and Judge, and Moose may very well hit 45 home runs with that short porch in New York. One possible way for the Yankees to better afford a Mike Moustakas contract is if someone took part of that Jacoby Ellsbury contract off of their hands.

The Kansas City Royals happen to have a need in CF, and trading for Jacoby Ellsbury could also bring in a top notch prospect to help KC continue rebuilding their farm system. I’m not even sure that part of this trade is legal (I’ll get to that in a second) but here’s what I would propose to New York if I was Dayton Moore:

Kansas City Royals receive:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 3B Miguel Andujar (MLB.com’s #92 overall prospect), $9M/year

New York Yankees receive:

CF Bubba Starling

At first, this trade probably won’t make sense to a lot of average fans. “How are we going to get a center fielder, a top 100 prospect, and money from the Yankees for a washed up first round pick?” Let me reiterate just how awful Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract is. He has the 28th biggest payroll hit of any player in baseball and last year and tied for 155th in total fWAR. The contract has been a disaster to say the least, and the Yankees have Aaron Hicks who posted 3.3 fWAR and is making almost $20 million less than Ellsbury in 2018.

Add this in to the free agent class of 2019. Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, AJ Pollock, among dozens of other good players are set to become free agents. By dumping somewhere between $10-12M of Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract for the next three years, the Yankees would lower their current payroll into the $152 million range and put themselves in a great position to chase two or three free agents from that monster class.

The Royals would accept this trade for a few reasons:

  1. Miguel Andujar would instantly become their top prospect and could probably start at third base for them on Opening Day, though you could potentially see a Kris Bryant situation where they hold him down for a month or so to manipulate his service time.
  2. Jacoby Ellsbury is not a terrible center fielder, he just has one of the worst contracts in baseball. Plugging Jacoby Ellsbury into center and the 1-2 spot in the lineup would go a long way to help keep this Royals team competitive during the rebuilding years, and his contract isn’t so long that it would hamper the Royals when the team is ready to compete again. The Royals really don’t have many hitters on the team that are natural hitters that high in the lineup. Salvy, the Jorges, Alex Gordon, Esky, Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, all profile as some where near the middle-to-bottom of the lineup type hitters. Only Whit Merrifield really belongs in the top two spots in the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury would allow everyone to play their natural positions on the field and hit in their natural positions in the lineup as well.
  3. The Royals would be able to make up the extra ~$13M they would pick up on Ellsbury’s deal by trading Danny Duffy. I wrote an article yesterday for Royals Farm Report in which I detailed a trade proposal to send Duffy to the Twins. I wrote a previous one trying to send him to Milwaukee but the Marlins essentially got the same deal for Yelich. The point is, I am on the “trade Duffy” bandwagon. I think his value is currently high enough that trading him makes the most sense for the rebuild. If they could ship his contract off to the Twins (or any other team) then they’d save roughly $15M/year for the next four years. In essence, by trading Duffy and acquiring Ellsbury the Royals could actually save money AND add two top 100 prospects to their farm system.

Great, how does this affect Mike Moustakas?

By eating $10-12M of Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract for the next three seasons, the Royals would inadvertently (not inadvertent at all but I don’t think what I am proposing is legal) open up some payroll space for the Yankees to sign Mike Moustakas to a five-year deal worth $50M+ with an opt out after year two.

Here’s why both Moose and the Yankees agree to this deal:

  1. The Yankees sign this contract because it allows them to compete with the Astros for the AL pennant in 2018. The Astros ran through the AL last year and added Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to their rotation. The Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton, but Mike Moustakas would be the left-handed power bat that they still need.
  2. The contract would be front loaded to encourage Mike Moustakas to opt out after two years, much like the Eric Hosmer deal in San Diego. Moose could very seriously hit 45 home runs a year for the next two years playing in Yankee Stadium. Put him between Judge and Stanton and I guarantee you he keeps building on his career year last year. Once Machado and Donaldson find homes after next season, Moose could opt out and find one more three- or four-year deal that would pay him more than what was left on his Yankee contract.
  3. A realistic two year contract for Moose does not prevent the Yankees from signing Manny Machado. Manny Machado has expressed his interest to play shortstop for the rest of his career. With Didi Gregorius under contract for only one more season after 2018, the Yankees could ship him off somewhere or have Moose DH in 2019. When you have three hitters as good as Moose, Machado, and Gregorius (theoretically), you make room for all of them to get at bats. Especially when it isn’t a long-term issue. The flexibility of Machado to play shortstop and third base, as well as potentially short-term deals for Moose and Gregorius make this possible.

Here is the real end result:

Kansas City Royals receive:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 3B/#92 overall prospect Miguel Andujar, $9M/year for the next three years, a first round compensation draft pick in 2018

New York Yankees receive:

CF Bubba Starling, 3B Mike Moustakas on a free agent deal for 5 years and $50M+ with an opt out after two years

That’s a whole lot of movement, but it makes sense for every single party involved. The Yankees get a defensive replacement/pinch runner for one of the Bash Brothers late in games and a third baseman who will help said Bash Brothers get to a World Series in the next couple of years without hampering their ability to sign other free agents.

The Royals get a centerfielder to hold the reigns until one of Michael Gigliotti or Donnie Dewees Jr. is ready to play full-time, a top 100 prospect, and a pick after the first round when Moose signs in NY. This move could potentially be huge for the Royals rebuild, and help the guys who are already here reach their maximum value.

What say you Royals fans? Are you willing to take on a bad contract to receive a (nearly) big league ready third baseman? I’ll see you all in the comments.