Reds Go Big With Mike Moustakas

Baseball News
2 days ago

The Reds signaled their intentions to compete in 2019 by trading for Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray, and Yasiel Puig, among others. They did compete with a BaseRuns record above .500 that with neutral luck would have put them in contention until the end of the season. They were 4 1/2 games off the division lead at the All-Star break, but a crowded division and a lack of talent relative to their competitors left them with 75 wins at the end of the year.

Cincinnati also announced their intentions to compete in 2020 by acquiring Trevor Bauer at the trade deadline. Bauer is now a part of what should be one of the better rotations in baseball along with Luis Castillo, Gray, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle. Even with a good rotation, the present roster wasn’t going to be enough in 2020, so the Reds struck a big deal with Mike Moustakas for four years and $64 million, as first reported by Jon Heyman and Jeff Passan.

For Moustakas, this deal was a long time coming. Two seasons ago, Dave Cameron and the crowd here at FanGraphs expected Moustakas would get five years and somewhere between $85-95 million. At the time, the Royals third baseman was coming off a 38-homer, 113-wRC+ season, but there were some questions about his defense due to knee problems in addition to the stigma of a qualifying offer. Moustakas ended up settling for one year and a $6.5 million guarantee in returning to Kansas City. He improved his defense in his time with the Royals and Brewers in 2018, but he hit 10 fewer home runs and was just a bit above average on offense. Behind Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson in the third base pecking order, Moustakas again found his market lacking and signed with the Brewers for $10 million.

With Milwaukee last season, Moustakas played some second base and repeated his 2018 campaign on offense to end up at about three wins above replacement. After two straight year-to-year deals, he finally received the contract over $80 million that he was expecting two seasons ago. This deal still comes as a little bit of a surprise, both in terms of the amount as well as his fit with the Reds. Both Kiley McDaniel and the crowd predicted Moustakas would receive a contract totaling about half the amount he is set to receive from the Reds. It’s not hard to see the logic in those predictions given what happened to Moustakas the last two winters, and as Rachael McDaniel noted, he wasn’t great in the latter half of this past season:

After declining the $10 million mutual option on his contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, Moustakas hits the free agent market for the third straight offseason in the best position yet to secure a favorable contract. Despite falling off as a hitter in the second half of the season — a 124 wRC+ in the first half turned to a 95 wRC+ after the All-Star break, possibly due to a lingering wrist injury — he finished the year grading out positively both at the plate and in the field, and remains one of the best third-base options available.

If we take away the baggage we associate with Moustakas’ last two offseasons, he’s been a 2.8-WAR player on average in his last four full seasons, he’s coming off a 2.8 WAR season, and he’s projected for the same next season. For a Reds team that received below replacement-level production from the non-tendered José Peraza and Scooter Gennett, the improvement should be a big one. Moustakas will play next season at 31 years old. By projection, age, and positional importance, that’s not entirely different from A.J. Pollock’s profile heading into free agency last year, and he received a similar deal to Moustakas. He is likely to be above average next season, probably closer to average in 2021 and 2022, and closer to a solid bench option in 2023. This isn’t likely to be a great deal value-wise at the end of the contract, but this offer wasn’t made for 2023. It was made for next season.

With Eugenio Suarez at third base for the Reds, Moustakas’ ability to handle second base last year opened the possibility to put both on the roster for the next few years. The Reds are one of the more aggressive teams when it comes to shifting against left-handed batters, and that’s likely to help some deficiencies in Moustakas’ range. He has graded out roughly average at third base over the last few years, with Suarez pretty close but slightly below. While Suarez does have more experience in the middle of the infield, it likely doesn’t make much difference between the two, so keeping Suarez comfortable at third with less of a learning curve for Moustakas at second base makes some sense.

As for why the Reds opted to be aggressive with Moustakas rather than wait out the market for any number of available second basemen, they likely looked at potential areas of improvement on the free agent market and didn’t see a lot of of options. Yasmani Grandal certainly made sense, but he’s now signed with White Sox. Didi Gregorius still makes sense as an upgrade over Freddy Galvis, but if the team were to miss out on Gregorius, where might they go? With Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, and Aristides Aquino in the outfield, the team could upgrade there if it is concerned about Aquino’s dreadful September, but it isn’t unreasonable to give him a chance to try and recapture his amazing August. With all other positions spoken for and the rotation already in good shape, only Anthony Rendon, Donaldson, and Marcell Ozuna have higher projected win totals next season among free agent position players.

On paper, the addition of Moustakas puts the Reds pretty close to even with the Brewers and Cardinals in the NL Central, but about five games behind the Cubs. That makes them contenders for a playoff spot, but not close to favorites. The team needs to do a little bit more and all indications are that they will.

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Their payroll after signing Moustakas is still about $10 million under last year’s $130 million figure. The team opted not to offer contracts to Peraza, a surprise in 2018 who was below replacement last season, as well as Kevin Gausman, who they took a flyer on after he pitched his way out of Atlanta’s rotation. The Reds should have enough money for another Moustakas-like signing and still barely go above last year’s payroll. Plus, around $25 million of 2020 payroll comes off the books at the end of the season with Bauer and DeSclafani becoming free agents. Those commitments provide flexibility for the future and urgency for next season.

After attendance dipped from 2.5 million the last year they made the playoffs in 2013 to 1.6 million in 2018, the club’s moves last winter earned the team a small increase up to 1.8 million. Moustakas alone isn’t going to boost those numbers, but an active offseason likely will. Winning would have the greatest affect on attendance, but trying to win should be enough to help to put more fans in the seats for a more entertaining team than Cincinnati’s seen in half a dozen years.

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