Mike Moustakas Rumors

AL Central Notes: Royals, Aoki, Butler, Lovullo, Tigers

Though the Royals are coming off their best season in nearly three decades, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the team will soon need to turn its focus to some difficult offseason decisions. Industry expectations, according to Martino, are that the Royals will at least listen to trade offers for its more expensive players — including Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — if other teams come calling this winter. Gordon’s case is the most pressing, as he’s only controlled through 2015 at $12.5MM before he has a $12.5MM player option. Gordon has publicly stated that he plans to exercise that option, though it’d be a surprise, to say the least, considering he could be in line for a much more sizable long-term commitment next offseason if he turns it down. Martino also notes that the Royals will have interest in re-signing Nori Aoki this offseason. From my vantage point, the team needn’t feel pressure to move any of the three previously mentioned players, though I’ll cover that at greater length in the upcoming Royals Offseason Outlook.

For the time being, here’s more on the AL Champs and the rest of their division…

  • The Royals are expected to decline their $12.5MM option on designated hitter Billy Butler in favor of a $1MM buyout, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The move isn’t exactly unexpected after the down season he had at the plate. However, Heyman adds that the team may look to pursue Torii Hunter, as they did seven years ago, in the event that Aoki signs elsewhere as a free agent. The Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough also hears that Butler’s option is likely to be declined.
  • The Twins‘ front office flew out to Torey Lovullo’s home in California to conduct their second interview with him on Monday this week, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, but there’s still been no decision reached as to who will be the team’s next manager. Lovullo and Paul Molitor are believed to be the favorites.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski spoke candidly to reporters, including Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Press, about the team’s lack of financial flexibility this offseason. Said Dombrowski: “We have the most generous owner in baseball you could possibly have in sports. But we’re in a situation where $200 million payrolls aren’t what is common here. … It’s a situation where we’re really in a spot that if you’re going to have four starters being paid and you’re going to have a couple superstars in the middle of your lineup, that means there’s not as much availability to do some other things. And you have to determine what you’re going to do.”

Central Notes: Moustakas, Knebel, Taveras, Cubs

The Royals announced today that they have optioned struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas to Triple-A Omaha. The move marks a significant fall for the former top prospect, who has yet to show any sort of consistency at the Major League level. Royals fans were optimistic when “Moose” hit .269/.314/.425 over his final 78 games last season and posted strong numbers in Spring Training, but the 25-year-old hit just .152/.223/.320 in 40 games this season despite being platooned for much of the year. Moustakas has turned in elite defensive numbers throughout his career, but he’ll need to show more at the plate to ever deliver on his lofty prospect status.

Here are some more items pertaining to baseball’s Central divisions…

  • The Tigers today optioned left-hander Robbie Ray to Triple-A Toledo and announced that they will purchase the contract of right-hander Corey Knebel prior to tomorrow’s game. Knebel, a right-handed reliever, will become the second player from the 2013 draft to reach the Major Leagues (Cleveland’s Kyle Crockett debuted on May 16). He’s posted a brilliant 0.90 ERA with 12.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 50 innings across three levels since being selected 39th overall less than one year ago.
  • Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that playing time for Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras could present itself shortly in the Majors, as the team begins a stretch of seven games in AL parks in early June. However, the Cardinals could also recall Randal Grichuk, who has been on an otherwordly tear since being sent back to Triple-A, having slashed .347/.418/.776 with six homers in 12 games. GM John Mozeliak wouldn’t rule out the possibility of either player being promoted when asked by Goold.
  • Grantland’s Jonah Keri spoke with Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, ace Adam Wainwright and former Redbird Kyle Lohse about the intricacies of former pitching coach Dave Duncan’s philosophy and approach to the game. Keri writes that Duncan’s influence still runs through the veins of the Cardinals’ organization, which is a driving force behind the team’s extended success. Wainwright said Duncan was “borderline maniacal” in terms of advance scouting and analytics. Keri notes that Duncan never cared much for pitcher-versus-batter data, as such small samples led to misguided decisions.
  • Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts will submit a revised proposal for renovations to Wrigley Field, writes MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. If approved, they are prepared to move forward with the plans, which include additional seating in the Budweiser Bleachers, new outfield lights to reduce shadows, four additional LED signs of up to 650 square feet and a 2400 square foot video board in right field. Ricketts says negotiations with rooftop business owners have gone nowhere, so It has to end. It’s time to move forward.” He hopes they can avoid going to court with the rooftop owners.

AL Notes: Dozier, Sizemore, Jays, Rangers, Moustakas, Morales

The title of the game’s most underrated player has gone to the Rays‘ Ben Zobrist in the past, writes Dave Cameron for FOX Sports, but now belongs to Brian Dozier of the Twins, who has exhibited a similar career trajectory to the late-blooming Zobrist. Showing power that he never carried in the minors, Dozier emerged last year. He has only upped his performance in 2014, with an increasing walk rate, strong defense, and good baserunning combining with that newfound pop to make Dozier one of the game’s most valuable second basemen over the last calendar year. Even better for Minnesota, the 27-year-old will not even be eligible for arbitration until 2016. Certainly, he increasingly appears to be an extension candidate — a possibility that the team has previously explored.

Here’s more from around the American League:

  • The Red Sox are considering how to proceed with outfielder Grady Sizemore, who ended the evening with a .218/.293/.336 slash in 133 plate appearances, reports Joon Lee of WEEI.com. Manager John Farrell indicated that a move was not out of the question. “There’s ongoing discussion,” he said, “not just today but for some time. We’re trying to get the best read we can on our guys here. That doesn’t suggest there’s any change imminent.” While Sizemore is set to earn just $750K in base salary on his comeback deal, he does get $250K bonuses for every 25th plate appearance between 225 and 500 as well as for his 60th, 90th, 120th, and 150th day on the roster. As those milestones begin to approach, the team will have increasing incentives to consider alternatives.
  • For the division-rival Blue Jays, a move up in the standings only highlights the need to add starting pitching, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. While the results from the rotation have actually been pretty solid, Davidi notes that the staff has failed to go deep into games and still lacks a solid, established group of five starters.
  • The struggling Rangers should consider marketing star infielders Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus over the summer, opines Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. While the club has attractive infield prospects rising through the ranks, its rotation looks thin after its recent run of devastating injuries. Adding some young pitching and temporarily shedding salary in advance of a pitching-rich free agent market could better align the club’s resources for a run in 2015, says Morosi.
  • In the midst of a difficult stretch at the plate, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has been optioned to Triple-A in favor of Jimmy Paredes. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes, the move was not surprising at this point, with the 25-year-old sporting a 152/.223/.320 line. Needless to say, Kansas City will hope that the former top prospect can regain his form with some time in the minors; as Cameron writes on Fangraphs, Moustakas has shown serious contact issues.
  • Notably, the demotion comes not long before Moustakas would have passed the key threshold of three years of MLB service (he entered the season with 2.111 to his credit). As occurred last year with Danny Espinosa of the Nationals, Moustakas could see his arbitration and free agent eligibility delayed by a year apiece if he does not make it back to the bigs. The same holds true for Hector Santiago of the Angels, who was recently optioned to the minors after beginning 2014 with 2.024 years of service in the bag.
  • With the recent example of Stephen Drew‘s re-signing with the Red Sox, it is time for the Mariners to seriously consider a move to bring back Kendrys Morales, writes Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. The need is now there with Corey Hart joining Logan Morrison on the disabled list, he says, and the club should have the financial flexibility to make it work. Obviously, it is also important to note that the team now has little chance of acquiring a compensatory draft choice arising out of Morales’s decision to decline a qualifying offer. With no obvious alternative suitors for Morales, Seattle should be in a fairly solid position to make a win-win offer.


Central Notes: Cardinals, Chapman, Moustakas

The Pirates and Cardinals faced off tonight on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, but the matchup meant something different for each team, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes. It was the first time ESPN had hosted the broadcast in Pittsburgh in 1996, and for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, appearing on the show demonstrates that the Pirates are relevant once again. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, though, doesn’t like playing on Sunday nights, especially given the travel headaches it causes when playing on the road. “I don’t think it’s taken into consideration at all that it makes it harder for us,” Matheny says. “You get in at four o’clock in the morning and … if they tell you that playing the next day that’s not going to affect you, I’d say they’re wrong.” Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Reds closer Aroldis Chapman made his first appearance of the season on Sunday after missing the first six weeks after being struck in the face with a line drive in spring training, and he appears he hasn’t missed a beat. Chapman threw 15 fastballs of at least 100 MPH and topped out at 102 MPH while striking out three batters and collecting his first save against the Rockies.
  • The Royals are considering demoting infielder Mike Moustakas as they open roster space for a reliever, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. It’s been a disappointing season for Moustakas, who’s hitting just .147/.215/.321. The 2007 second-overall pick has struggled since a strong season in 2012 and has been below replacement level in 2014, even though he’s a skilled defensive third baseman.

Silverman’s Latest: Greinke, Royals, Rays, Blue Jays

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told Michael Silverman of The Boston Herald that he was unsure if he'd be able to acquire Miguel Cabrera (and Dontrelle Willis) in 2007. “A lot of clubs were involved and I didn’t think it was going to work for us for where we were financially,” said Dombrowski. “Once we sat down with the Marlins, it took us just a day to work out that deal. It happened very fast.”

Here are Silverman's rumors…


Royals Open To Trading Prospects

With baseball's best farm system at his disposal, Royals GM Dayton Moore acknowledged that he's willing to trade prospects for pitching, according to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star. Dutton says Moore would like to find a deal similar to the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, where the Indians acquired a talented, controllable starter in exchange for prospects.

"We'll be aggressive in trades," Moore said, looking ahead to the offseason. “We'll try to make a trade or two that helps us. We have to look internally first, but then we have to look at trades. Then, finally, we have to look at free agency. We’ll explore all of those options…. We have a minor league system that's ranked pretty good. So we'll see what's out there. We're a pitcher or two away."

This spring, Baseball America said Kansas City's minor league system was "among the best we've seen," with nine Royals ranking among BA's top 100 prospects. So while there's no doubt that the Royals have the depth to make such a move, you could contest Moore's assertion that the club is only "a pitcher or two away." Even in a weak AL Central division, with some of their youngsters starting to make an impact in the bigs, the Royals are 25 games below .500 this season.

Still, according to Dutton, club officials believe that the rotation doesn't need to be overhauled for 2012, and that adding a top-of-the-rotation starter to their current core is the key for a "rapid rise" in the standings.

"What we need, if we're going to win a championship," one official said. "Is somebody who can match up with [Justin] Verlander and [C.C.] Sabathia and [Josh] Beckett."

ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider link) identifies the Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Braves as teams who might match up with the Royals, specifically naming Mike Moustakas as a player who could interest Atlanta as a successor to Chipper Jones at third base.


Olney On Yankees, A’s, Moustakas

The Yankees have lost reliever after reliever to the disabled list this year, but that doesn’t mean they’re about to rush top pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos to the Bronx. GM Brian Cashman told ESPN.com’s Buster Olney that he’ll try to strengthen the team’s bullpen in other ways. Here are the rest of Olney's rumors:

  • Triple-A reliever Kevin Whelan could be an option for the Yankees, who have a depleted bullpen instead of the dominant one they expected after the offseason.
  • Olney says turnover was inevitable for the A’s “because the franchise continues to rot day by day.” Oakland’s ballpark situation remains unclear and Olney says the franchise will continue to “rot” until there’s resolution on that front.
  • Royals GM Dayton Moore told Olney that the time is right for top prospect Mike Moustakas to play in the big leagues. “Ned [Yost, the manager] wanted to get another bat in here, and our people feel like he's ready," Moore said. Moustakas has a .287/.347/.498 line with ten homers at Triple-A and he still has enough time to pick up a few hundred MLB plate appearances this year.

Update On The Timing Of Top Prospects’ Debuts

Teams like saving money and extending their control over top young players. Why wouldn't they? Having impact players on affordable contracts simplifies a GM's job. As a result, teams call top young players up strategically every season to control their service time and, in doing so, delay their free agency and/or limit their earnings.

Though service time is a consideration all season long, it's most evident at two times: in April and again midseason, around early June. If teams wait until a few weeks after the season has begun to call a prospect up for his MLB debut, the player doesn't collect a full year of service time, which delays his free agency by a year.

The precise date until which teams must wait before calling prospects up varies each year and according to whether players are on the 40-man roster. Now that we're nearly three weeks into the season, even prospects on the 40-man roster can be called up, since they have spent the requisite 20-day period in the minor leagues. 

None of the following prospects have big league service time, which means that their teams can call them up at any point and keep them through the 2017 season, if not longer: Dustin Ackley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brett Lawrie, Mike Moustakas, Jesus Montero, Eric Hosmer, Julio Teheran, Manny Banuelos, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles.

On the other hand, Michael Pineda, Zach Britton and Brandon Belt are now in the majors, picking up service time. Because those players are now on MLB rosters, they're currently on track to hit free agency after the 2016 season. However, if their respective teams option them to the minors for 20 days or more, their path to free agency could be slowed as well (that's an immediate possibility for Belt and a long-term one for the pair of impressive rookie hurlers).

That may sounds complicated, but it's the easy part. Later this spring, in late May and early June, the guessing game begins. Teams do not (and can not) know exactly when future cutoffs for super two status will be, so if they want to play it safe and ensure that prospects like Montero and Ackley only go to arbitration three times, they'll want to wait until at least the middle of June before calling them up.


Moore On Butler, Moustakas, Hosmer, Ka’aihue

Royals GM Dayton Moore told John Sickels of Minor League Ball that it takes time to develop prospects and turn them into major leaguers. Moore says he understands fans' concerns about the Royals' recent history of losing and shares their excitement about the players currently in the Royals' highly touted system. Here are the details:

  • Moore says players can take a few years to develop, pointing to Billy Butler. The Royals extended Butler earlier in the year because he has improved every year and they "think he's about to take that to another level."
  • Hitters take time to develop, since it's hard for them "to develop beyond their level of competition." In other words they need to face good pitching to learn to hit it. 
  • The Royals are "very optimistic" about Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, partly because the two top prospects have experienced failure.
  • Moustakas "can stick at third base, no question," according to Moore, who likes the infielder's arm and body control.
  • Hosmer and Moustakas could push Kila Ka'aihue into a reserve role, but the Royals say he's capable of more. "We think he can hit .240-.260, hit 20-25 homers, .370 OBP," Moore said. "It will be a nice problem fitting all these guys in the lineup."
  • Christian Colon, the team's top pick in 2010, "can be an Orlando Cabrera type at short, or a Placido Polanco if he moves to second," Moore said.
  • Moore says the Royals need more speed and athleticism. The GM says his ideal team would have a center fielder like Adam Jones or Torii Hunter - someone with speed, defense and power.

Royals Notes: Moustakas, Hosmer, Ka’aihue, Young

Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star answered a number of Royals-related questions during an online chat with fans today.  Here are a few of the more notable items…

  • The Royals' highly-touted farm system has more depth than ever, so Dutton explains that this wave of prospects will be different than past (failed) "youth movements" in Kansas City.  "Will some guys flop?  Absolutely," Dutton writes.  "But the depth is so good that not ALL of them will flop.  Some should be really good."
  • Dutton thinks Mike Moustakas will be in the majors by June, but Eric Hosmer may be a September call-up at best since K.C. wants to give Kila Ka'aihue "an extended look."
  • Speaking of Ka'aihue, Dutton notes that if Hosmer lives up to expectations, the question for Kansas City becomes whether Ka'aihue or Billy Butler is the better long-term DH.  You'd expect Butler would have the edge given his proven hitting abilty and recent contract extension, but that team-friendly deal (four years/$30MM, plus a 2015 team option) could make Butler very attractive on the trade market.
  • Moustakas' arrival could turn Wilson Betemit into "trade bait," but Dutton notes that Betemit could take over at second if Chris Getz can't handle the job.
  • The Royals have no interest in Michael Young.  He's both too costly and would block "high-quality alternatives" from the minors at various infield positions.
  • "The Royals appear committed to opening the season with Melky Cabrera in center," Dutton writes.  Kansas City signed Cabrera before they acquired Lorenzo Cain from Milwaukee, but Dutton notes that Cain could he called up from the minors should he play well.  Cabrera is only slated to earn $1.25MM in 2011, so the Royals wouldn't be sending a lot of money to the bench if Cain usurped the center field job.  Dutton mentions later in the chat that the Royals can be flexible with Cain since he has minor league options left.
  • Dutton thinks the Blue Jays and Braves will regret trading minor league left-hander Tim Collins.  The 21-year-old was sent to Atlanta in the Yunel Escobar deal last summer and then became a Royal at the trade deadline as part of the package that sent Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel to the Braves.
  • "It's a long shot" that the Royals would try to sign Zack Greinke after the right-hander's contract expires after 2012.