The almost non-existent market for Mike Moustakas last winter was one of the most puzzling storylines of the off-season. Moose is in the prime of his career, is a solid defender, and is coming off a career-high 38 home runs, the eighth-highest total among all hitters last year. And yet he received only a three-year deal from the Angels, far less than what he was expected to receive, or no offers at all, depending on who you want to believe, until he signed with the Royals for a ridiculously low one-year, $6.5 million deal.
Writer Jon Heyman at FanRag tries to shed some light on the mysteriously absent market for Moose by talking to some rival executives and coaches. One possible reason Heyman suggests, was that Moustakas has a reputation of not being a hard worker.
Moustakas never got one other offer, and while there are a number of possible factors, words from inside the organization that his work ethic didn’t match his talent were being heard (what rival execs described as a “thick body” went along with that narrative) and that may not have helped.
Heyman cites a source close to Moustakas claiming that there may have been a “feud” with a coach early in his career that may have hurt his reputation, that has since been resolved. There were whispers young hitters like Moustakas and Hosmer were slow to listen to hitting coaches early in their career, with Mike Schmidt even recounting what he heard from George Brett, who served as interim hitting instructor back in 2013, that young Royals hitters weren’t receptive to his advice.
That this reputation would still follow Moose now would be odd. Moustakas has been praised for his leadership during the Royals’ playoff runs in 2014 and 2015, and his speech during the 2015 ALDS Game 4 against Houston is cited as a big reason why the team was able to stage an epic comeback. And there have certainly been more difficult players that have landed big long-term deals - Hanley Ramirez, Melvin Upton, even in Kansas City with Jose Guillen.
Heyman writes there “was a surprising amount of negativity” from the rivals he spoke to, with Moustakas’ body being an issue as well.
“He’s a bad-bodied guy,” one rival coach said. “If he worked at it, he could be in the next tier of third basemen, right below Manny Machado. But he’s regressed in terms of lateral movement.”
Moose has never been a svelte player, but the weight has never seemed to be an issue before. He was an exemplary defender up until last year, according to the metrics, and his defensive decline is likely due to the knee injury he suffered in 2017, not because he suddenly gained weight.
Furthermore, we are supposedly in an era in which more teams than ever are into analytics. Wasn’t Billy Beane, the innovator behind Moneyball, the champion of bad-bodied ballplayers? He famously said “we’re not selling jeans here” as a reminder that players don’t have to look like models to be good hitters, illustrating that point by drafting corpulent catcher Jeremy Brown.
Big contracts to guys like Prince Fielder, Pablo Sandoval, and Billy Butler would suggest that bad bodies aren’t an impediment to long-term deals. But perhaps the fact that all three of those deals didn’t work out well worked against Moustakas to create a bias against bad-bodied ballplayers.
Some of the concerns about Moose were just downright vague. Like, I don’t even know what this means.
Another exec didn’t want to get into the issues, but simply said, “Moustakas had some hickeys.”
Frankly, this seems like finding reasons not to like a guy, rather than looking at what he does well. Mike Moustakas is a young, vocal player in his prime with tremendous power, solid defense, injury concerns, and low on-base percentage. His lack of a market are probably more likely due to a lack of teams needing a third baseman, and an overall austerity around baseball that has prevented teams from spending. Knowing Heyman’s ties to agent Scott Boras, this report could very well be an attempt to cover up a miscalculation by Boras.
Heyman notes that Moustakas has taken this negative experience well and we will see if any teams pursue him this summer as a trade piece. Maybe a different market next winter will open up opportunities for him and he can get the price he wants. But he will be up against free agents Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado then, and if there really are concerns about his attitude and weight, he may find another frustrating experience in free agency.