Multiple teams, including the Yankees, have at least considered the notion of trading for Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and shifting him across the diamond to first base, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports. It’s worth noting that there’s no indication from the report that the Yankees’ interest is especially serious or extends anywhere beyond internal discussions at this point.
Moustakas, 29, stands out as one of the more obvious trade candidates in the league, given his standing as an impending free agent who is playing on an affordable contract (one year, $6.5MM) with a rebuilding Royals club that has already begun to trade away pieces (Kelvin Herrera, Jon Jay). He’s hitting .258/.312/.478 with 16 homers to this point in the 2018 season.
Of course, it should be asked just how much of an upgrade Moustakas would even represent for the Yankees. Despite Greg Bird’s woeful .200 average, his .306 on-base percentage only narrowly trails Moustakas’ .312 mark. Bird walks at a substantially higher clip than Moustakas and has also been more prone to getting hit by pitches in recent seasons, though he’s also much more strikeout-prone (27.3 percent to Moustakas’ 14.9 percent). Bird has also hit for slightly more power, sporting a .219 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) to Moustakas’ .214.
There’s certainly an argument that moving Moustakas from the spacious Kauffman Stadium to Yankee Stadium and its notoriously short right-field porch would significantly boost his home run output. However, Moustakas’ lack of experience at first base, where he’s started just twice in his career, would likely result in a defensive downgrade over Bird.
Beyond all of that are the simple facts that Moustakas hasn’t hit much since mid-May and has been sidelined by back spasms this week. While he got off to a blistering start, Moose is hitting just .212/.292/.384 with six home runs over his past 40 games. He’s swung a bit better in his past five games, but the .299/.331/.531 slash he boasted in mid-May is now a distant memory.
Any trades the Yankees make, of course, need to be viewed through the lens of the competitive balance/luxury tax. New York was adamant about remaining under that $197MM threshold this past offseason and figures to stay on that same course on the summer trade market. The Yankees are roughly $16MM south of that line at this point, so it’s possible that they could add both Moustakas and a starting pitcher, which is rumored to be their top need. Depending on the specific rotation target, though, the Yankees may ask the opposing team to offset some of the financial load.
Alternatively, Morosi suggests a scenario in which the Yankees would ask another club to take on the remainder of Neil Walker’s $4MM contract in trades, which would have a similar effect on their bottom-line as relates to the luxury tax but would also require an improved prospect package. Indeed, the surprisingly poor play of Walker, who’d been a consistently solid offensive performer over the past eight seasons, is a large part of the reason the Yankees even need to entertain somewhat outside-the-box thoughts like adding Moustakas as a first-base option. Walker missed much of Spring Training while trying to find a deal in free agency and has never gotten on track in 2018, batting just .188/.268/.259 through his first 190 trips to the plate as a Yankee.
Ultimately, Moustakas doesn’t seem like a great fit for the Yankees or even a definitive upgrade over what Bird can bring to the table. The two have similar on-base and power numbers, with Bird representing a superior defensive option even if he’s more prone to strikeouts. Plus, if Bird’s .239 BABIP improves — which isn’t a given, considering his .251 career mark and extreme susceptibility to pull shifts in 2018 (56.9 percent pull rate) — he could even wind up with better OBP numbers than Moustakas.
Still, the fact that clubs are considering Moustakas as a first base option is nonetheless of note, as it could open the door for him to land with a club that might not have initially looked to be a fit at first glance.