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MLB Free-Agent Outcast Proving How Wrong Teams

2018-04-28 10:07:44


Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas bats against the Detroit Tigers in the third inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Friday, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Mike Moustakas didn't land a job until March 8, when the Kansas City Royals re-signed the third baseman on a one-year, $5.5 million deal with a mutual $15 million option for 2019 and a $1 million buyout.

That means, conceivably, the Royals snagged a two-time All-Star entering his age-29 season for $6.5 million. Did we mention he hit 38 home runs last year?

It was a bargain then. A month-and-change later, it's looking like highway robbery.

And it's making absolute fools out of the clubs that passed on Moustakas in the frigid, stingy winter of 2017-18.

Entering play Monday, Moustakas was hitting .318 with a .953 OPS and owned a 14-game hitting streak. Add six home runs and 17 RBI in 20 contests, and you've got an elite hitter pulling a role player's salary.

He's even bucking the biggest knock against him. Moustakas' career .306 on-base percentage leaves something to be desired. So far this season, his OBP sits at .341.

"Just trying to see the ball and get good pitches to hit," Moustakas said, per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com. "Trying to hit the barrel. I've been taking pretty good at-bats since Opening Day." 

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 11: Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium on April 11, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Brian Davidson
Brian Davidson/Getty Images

That's an understatement. Per FanGraphs, Moustakas had made hard contact on 50 percent of his batted balls as of Sunday, compared to a career average of 29.3 percent. He's swinging with increased authority, to put it mildly.

One possible explanation is his right knee, which he injured in 2016 and reaggravated on a hit-by-pitch last season, as Maria Torres of the Kansas City Star elucidated. 

"Anytime I would run or put pressure on it, it would tighten up or swell up, and I wasn't able to get a couple of days, which I needed, or just a week that I needed to just sit and let it relax," Moustakas said of the knee, per Torres.

Now, clearly, Moose is galloping free.

Moustakas rejected the Royals' offseason qualifying offer of $17.5 million, meaning he came with draft-pick-compensation baggage for any squad that signed him. In a winter when elite free agents withered on the vine and teams crammed their budgets into mattresses to remain under the luxury tax or save for the fabled 2018-19 free-agent class, it was enough to shove him into the cold.

In the end, he crawled back to Kansas City for less money.

There was word of a three-year, $45 million offer from the Los Angeles Angels, according to Sam Mellinger of the Kanas City Star.

Moustakas' agent, the infamous Scott Boras, shot that down, per Mellinger: "There was never a multiyear contract offer made to Mike Moustakas by the Angels or any other major league team."

Perhaps that's Boras being Boras. Given the paucity of big contracts doled out overall, however, it rings true.

According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, Moustakas may have been damaged by perceptions about his physique.

"He's a bad-bodied guy," an unnamed rival coach said, per Heyman. Sometimes, obviously, the eyeball test is flawed.

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 18: Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals walks away after being stranded on second base at the end of the top of the third inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on April 18, 2018 in Toronto
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Look at a team like the Baltimore Orioles, who are ostensibly attempting to contend in the American League East. At present, Tim Beckham and his .175 average top the Orioles' third base depth chart.

Or consider the San Francisco Giants, who traded a decent cache of prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays for 32-year-old third baseman Evan Longoria and the bulk of the $86 million remaining on his contract, which runs at least though 2022.

Would either of those teams take Moustakas and his 2018 production at one year and $6.5 million? You bet your sweet hot corner. 

Sure, the season is young. Hindsight is 20/20. Yet, Moustakas is standing tall as the poster boy of an offseason that undervalued legitimate difference-makers.

He's also plying his trade for the Royals, who sit at 5-15. The feel-good story of K.C. bringing him back to the only franchise he's ever known could quickly curdle into a July trade-deadline swap.

It's too early to say the Royals are destined for a rebuild, but...the Royals are destined for a rebuild.

If and when Moustakas is dealt, he'll get a chance to re-enter the postseason crucible and increase his value for the coming offseason, when he should command far more respect and dollars.

If he keeps raking like he has, Moose won't need to wait till March to land a job. And he won't get robbed again.

   

All statistics and contract information current through Sunday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.


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