We’re well into spring training, and Mike Moustakas is still unemployed. This may seem bonkers to you, that a 29-year-old All-Star lefty who hit 38 home runs the previous season would still be unemployed, but it’s 2018. What is bonkers has happened many times over already. We kicked off the year by eating Tide Pods, for Pete’s sake.
What is particularly bonkers is that Moustakas is a good player who also checks off all the other ‘intangibles’ that front offices look for. He’s a married family man (and proud new father). He’s a champion with postseason success. A clubhouse leader. He’s a hard-playing, gritty white dude, which is to say that, regardless of your opinion on whether or not that matters, there for sure isn’t any negative racial stereotyping going on in his case.
Moustakas just got unlucky this offseason. Sometimes that happens. He is limited positionally to third base, first base, and designated hitter, which also limits the number of interested teams. Combine that with a suspiciously slow offseason in general and a small army of teams not even pretending to win baseball games and you get the situation Moustakas currently occupies: being unemployed, in March, with actual baseball breathing down our collective necks.
Moose probably isn’t going to get the four or five-year deal he was looking for. And that has naturally prompted plenty of questions directed at Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore regarding Moose. And Moore’s response was vaguely interesting, but mostly vague:
He went on to say that they probably need another left-handed bat, but won't bring in anyone that would hinder Soler/Boni/Cuthbert/Whit getting every day at-bats. Need to learn if they can factor into 2019 plans & beyond. #Royals— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) March 4, 2018
Dayton Moore on @MLBNetwork "We're not going to close our door ever to good players, and Mike Moustakas is a good player."— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) March 4, 2018
If you read between the lines of the tea leaves between the lines, it certainly seems possible that Moose could end up a Royal in 2018. He is, after all, a left-handed bat. Moore has a long history of giving Moose every opportunity to succeed, even when the going was tough and Moustakas was struggling. But front office executives have perfected the way they say words without communicating meaning, and that last quote that “Mike Moustakas is a good player” is about as clear an example of that as can be.
Moore, as well as Ned Yost, have repeatedly expressed their desire for Jorge Bonifacio, Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, and Cheslor Cuthbert get a full season’s worth of plate appearances and playing time. For the Jorges and Merrifield, that’s simple: slot Alex Gordon in center field, allowing the Jorges to play the corners, and stick Merrifield back at second base where he was last year.
Cuthbert’s route to a full season of plate appearance is equally simple, because without Moustakas third base would be Bert’s for the taking. The one problem with Cuthbert playing third base is that we already know what’s probably going to happen. Cuthbert is the Transformers sequel of Royals players—we all know the general gist of what’s going to happen, even if we have no idea if Mark Wahlberg or Shia LaBeouf is the lead, and we’ve already experienced enough Transformers already to ascertain the general quality of the sequel without seeing it.
Over three seasons, Cuthbert has a tick over 200 games played and 700 plate appearances logged. During that time, Fangraphs puts his Wins Above Replacement at all of 0.1. Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR has him at -0.3. By both wRC+ and OPS+, two aggregate offensive statistics that track offensive performance relative to league average numbers, Cuthbert has been 15% below average with the bat.
And let’s not forget about Cuthbert’s defense, which is Transformers-esque in its lumbering clunkiness. My colleague Shaun Newkirk cut this short video as proof, and it presents quite an extensive lowlight for a dude with only about 1500 innings in the field for his career.
An ode to Cheslor Cuthbert's defense pic.twitter.com/jjTVEwI9Za— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) June 26, 2017
Cuthbert is 25 this season, which is still surprisingly young for someone who has been around for as long as he’s seemed to be. It’s absolutely within the realm of possibility that he takes another step and becomes a solid everyday player. Even a half step or hesitant forward shuffle probably gets him to Danny Valencia level, who has been a useful bench piece for a while.
So if the Royals decide to move forward with Cuthbert, that’s fine. If he’s bad, no one will care. The Royals as a team are going to make a run at 100 losses this year, which is the perfect opportunity to try weird things. Rebuilding baseball teams should always be more weird.
But re-signing Moustakas to return isn’t a bad idea. It just might work.
First, he’s probably going to take a one-year deal somewhere and try the whole free agency thing again next year, so why not come back to Kansas City where everyone already loves him in the meantime? The Royals would have to cough up $15 million or so for him, and while the Royals organization will complain about being strapped for cash, they could do it without blinking an eye.
After 2019, the Royals pathetic television deal with Fox Sports Kansas City will expire. And if the Tampa Bay Rays’ new deal is any indication, the Royals could ink a deal that gives them $30-$50 million more per year than right now, which will coincide with basement-level rebuilding payrolls. Those factors will combine to result in a profitable organization before you factor in any other forms of revenue, such as ticket sales, merchandise, and profit sharing. So yes: they can afford Moustakas for one year.
Furthermore, the situation has no downsides for Kansas City. Fans will be ecstatic to welcome the all-time Royals home run king back to the team, and his return will probably be a boon for team morale. If he’s bad and turns into Billy Butler, then oh well. It’s only a one-year deal.
But the real reason for re-signing Moose is doing so with an eye towards the July trade deadline. There’s a chance that Moose becomes the premier bat available for a contending team. Two years from his major knee injury, it seems likely we’ll see a more agile Moose roaming the hot corner. If Moose has re-established some defensive mojo, and is on track to hit 40 home runs and accrue between 3 and 4 WAR for the year, contending teams will be all over him as a rental. His trade value in this situation would bring in a greater prospect than is likely the Royals get from the second round comp pick Kansas City would receive if Moose signed elsewhere.
Many times in sports, we tend to have very strong opinions, rightfully so, about one thing or another. When it comes to beloved players entering free agency, like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain, those opinions tend to be particularly strong.
But I can’t summon a strong opinion about this. If the Royals stay with Cuthbert at third, that’s a defensible choice. But if the Royals decide to grab Moose, try for a wild lucky run like in 2003, and use him as trade bait if it doesn’t work out, then that’s pretty neat.
We just have to watch and see. So it goes.