You already know the essentials here. Mike Moustakas has twice entered the open market in apparent position to secure a strong, multi-year contract. And he has twice come away with a one-year pillow deal (in each case involving a mutual option that mostly functions to defer some salary). As he closes in on his 31st birthday at the tail end of the 2019 season, Moustakas is still playing well. Can he finally hit it big in free agency? Or will he again be forced to go year-to-year?
When Moustakas first prepared for free agency, entering his age-29 season, he seemed a good bet for a rather hefty contract. He had bounced back well from an injury-limited 2016 campaign; rejecting a qualifying offer was a foregone conclusion. Last winter, the value was down a bit, as were the expectations, but Moustakas still seemed to carry the profile of a player that could hold down regular playing time for a contender. He got a bigger contract, but only a single-season promise.
Fool me once, fool me twice … how about a third time? If the season ended today, I’d be on board once again with predicting multiple seasons at a strong salary. His prior forays may not have ended as hoped, but Moustakas has now twice disproved the doubters. He’s much the same player as ever … thus knocking down some of the biggest questions raised. And there are also some notable shifts in his profile that enhance his appeal.
Offensively, Moustakas hasn’t undergone any reinventions. Instead, he has more or less been the best possible version of himself in 2019. His 123 wRC+ matches his career-best mark from his breakout 2015 season. He’s still tough to strike out (16.8%) and is sporting a career-best 8.3% walk rate. Moose is stinging the ball (career-best 43.0% hard-hit rate) and spraying it to all fields more than ever, even while carrying a career-best .276 isolated power mark and setting a pace to challenge his personal-high of 38 home runs (he has 26 through 410 plate appearances).
Even if we bake in a bit of regression, we’re looking at a pretty strong baseline here. Moustakas has been about 15% better than the league-average hitter over nearly a five-year span. He has stayed in range of that performance level, establishing quite a consistent path. And he has even ironed out his platoon splits this year, performing a touch better against left-handed pitching than against righties. That shift actually accounts for most of Moustakas’s overall improvement at the plate and could be an interesting development in its own right, though it’s tough to assess whether it’s sustainable. The cherry on top offensively? Moustakas appears to be executing better on the bases, with Fangraphs’ BsR grading him as an approximately average runner this season after panning him in some prior campaigns.
And that’s all before we get to the most interesting aspect of Moustakas … his sudden and surprising defensive versatility. He has typically graded well at third base, so it isn’t as if the glove was ever considered a weakness. But there was concern that we were seeing the beginning of a downturn when Moustakas drew negative metrics in 2017, even though he bounced back to average last year. There never seemed to be much hope that he’d expand his repertoire.
As it turns out, the Brewers had other ideas … and they were pretty good ones. The club made the bold move of signing Moustakas with full intentions of deploying him at second base. As things have shaken out, he has split his time between second and his accustomed hot corner. And … Moustakas has thrived at both, grading as a net positive at his new spot and turning in revived marks from both UZR and DRS at third base.
Any other questions? How about durability and conditioning? The torn ACL that ended Moustakas’s ’16 campaign is fully healed. He has never had trouble staying on the field otherwise. While he’s still not speedy, Moustakas has restored his average sprint speed to pre-2016 levels and improved his home-to-first time in successive seasons (by measure of Statcast). Scouts throwing shade at his dad bod may well be humming a different tune this winter. By measure of the eye test, at least, Moustakas is carrying a relatively svelte physique at the moment.
Moustakas will always be more moose than antelope, but he’s also forcing us to reevaluate what such a creature can do on a ballfield. Right now, Moustakas is maximizing his tools offensively, smoothing some rough edges to various aspects of his game, and showing enhanced defensive value and roster versatility. There are some quality infielders on the upcoming market, most notably hot corner stalwarts Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, but there should still be plenty of places for Moustakas to land. While he’ll obviously be entering free agency at a more advanced age than he did in his two prior experiences, the third trip might well end up being his most lucrative.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Where’d all the haters go? Anyone who watched Royals games in 2015, 2016 and 2017 already knew all of this. It just took the rest of you a few years to figure it out.
What are you talking about? M.M. is an inconsistent player who has had more sub one WAR seasons than 3+ WAR seasons and only one four WAR season. This is is second best year.
Two WAR is considered a major league starter, he’s average a WAR of under 2.
So what exactly have you known about this guy for years?
Enough with the WAR garbage, what a replacement-level player is vs a starter and trying to suppress his performance.
He is the second best hitter (behind the MVP) on a really good team.
All star 3 of the last 5 years
OPS over .800 4 or the last 5 years
20 HRs 4 of the last 5 years (other than his injury shortened 2016)
He’s a very good ballplayer.
Don’t really now too much about the guy….but think he’s found a home with the Brew Crew and its a good match.
However, if he was league wide considered a “very good ballplayer” then he wouldn’t have had problems finding employment over the last couple of years and had a multi year contract in his back pocket based on that value.
He’s good mind you, but you insinuate that “very good” puts him in the elite category and that just isn’t so. He’s a good ballplayer having a good year!
“but you insinuate that “very good” puts him in the elite category”
No, very good means very good. Elite means elite.
Good players start, very good players are among the top of the starters and first 5 or so hitters in the lineup (he hits clean-up primarily).. that’s how I tend to view those words in describing players.
Elite would be Trout, Yelich…which is why I didn’t use the word elite. He is a very good player, one that would make any starting 9 better and hit 1-6 in the order.
Also, a lot of factors go into free agency. Maybe ACL concerns, his agent, their expectations from contract size and length etc… which is the purpose of the post. Most people don’t see him as a year to year type of guy.
This year he’s been very good player. Most years he’s not. I was responding to a post where the writer was talking about something he’s known for years. I was wondering what he has known for years.
Since you mentioned OPS, his lifetime OPS+ is 101. 100 is league average.
He overhauled his swing prior to 2015 and became more of an all fields hitter than a dead-pull hitter. Pre-2015 Moose and post-2015 Moose are apples and oranges.
You guys seriously need to bring back the thumbs down function…
2012, 2015 & 2019 he has over 3 WAR
2013 & 2014 are his only seasons with under 1 WAR
His last 3 seasons have been WAR of 1.9, 2.5 & 3.2. That’s pretty damn consistent. Include 2015 & 2016 and his only “bad” season is the 2016 where he played 27 games, but still had .8 WAR.
2015 – 4.4
2016 – .8 (in 27 games)
2017 – 1.9
2018 – 2.5
2019 – 3.2
As I mentioned before, lifetime OPS+ of 101. As an Angel fan, I was very vocal about the Angels trying to add MM in 2019. I wanted him. I still want him. But I also know who he is. The man has value, but he’s far from a star.
Nice cherries you picked, there, mac. His only sub-1 WAR season in the last 5 was when he blew his knee out in 2016. He’s a consistent 2-3 WAR player now with defensive versatility and an above average bat. That’s what teams are looking for these days, especially as bullpens get bigger.
Is a lifetime OPS+ of 101 cherry picked? It seems like I’m the only one not cherry picking.
you are cherry picking because you’re using a statistic like a lifetime Ops plus when he’s only been relevant for the last five seasons and was a bust before that using statistics to prove your point when he was was not even a league-average player and shouldn’t have even been in the league compared to the five years prior which proved that he was an above average player and by his 116 ops which I agree still doesn’t make him a star but sure makes people’s points a lot more valid that he’s a very good player he is 16% above League average in the one statistic that you are choosing to prove your point so you know that’s something
Correct, lifetime OPS+ is a cherrypicked stat. His performance from 2011-2014 weighs that down. You can’t fault him for below average performance as a 22-25 year old when most kids out of college are still in the minors during those ages. He has clearly been an above average hitter/player for the past 5 years.
Again mac , overhauled swing/approach prior to 2015. Not a coincidence that his numbers improved then.
Moustakas is a terrible defender and is probably best being made into a 1B, but agreed he’s still a very good hitter in spite of getting dinged by BABIP really hard, and deserves a big contract. Astros should sign him to 5/100 to play 1B.
Terrible fielder? Muwhahahahahaaaaa! Funny! Now actually watch his games from this year, while playing second and third. Witness his ABOVE average fielding. #FAKENEWS!
Brewers should see what they can get for him, maybe a few pitchers. Finishing 3rd or worse with that pen and rotation.
Or maybe they shouldn’t trade one of their best hitters during a playoff run and should instead trade from the farm to improve their pitching
What farm? They don’t have the pieces to get the kind of pitching improvements that they need, especially with Woodruff out for 6 weeks.
Either way, the kind of team that would trade for an upcoming free agent like Mike probably isn’t looking to get rid of MLB level pitchers
3/50 w mutual option sounds like a floor…
Would like to see either Moose/Grandal on a 3 year deal. both have earned it for sure.
Brewers should just extend him at 2/28 million. Would of been the 4/40 endloaded contract he was due to get in 2018 anyways.
Lock him down, Stearns! 3/45mil should get it done.
Absolutely would be perfect for the Brewers to give it to him. He wants to stay and we want him to stay period. He is the essential player that we fans embrace and want. Grandal might be an all star but he doesn’t fit. I have seen numerous times where the pitchers havent been on the same page or trust throwing certain pitches to him.
I see no reason why Milwaukee should let him walk
They shouldn’t “let him” but he’s going to opt out at the end of the year and it will depend on what kind of offers he gets. I can’t see him taking an extension without testing the waters first again, but maybe the last 2 years scared him off.
Moose HATED free agency, mentioned it several times in interviews. If Milwaukee offers him something decent he’ll take it.
hope he hits big. 4/60?
Could be the big lefthanded bat the White Sox have needed for years.
that would be awkward tor royals fans….seeing MOOOOOOSE 19 games a year on another team.
The White Sox had every opportunity a couple off-seasons ago to get Moose on a bargain deal. If the Sox weren’t willing to give up a compensation pick then, it’d be face palming stupid for them to be willing to do that now when he likely has a market this time around.
We already have our 3B/1B and enough DH’s.
They need a left outfielder not a 3B/1B/DH when they already have Moncada, Abreu, Eloy, and eventually Vaughn
I wouldn’t call six million in 2018 a pillow contract. The flexibility he has gained makes him perfect for the NL, teams that have more double switch options are at a big advantage. He could end in Washington if Rendon costs too much, or actually go to the Angels this time.
It would be a little odd if the market for him really was that different this offseason. Sure, he’s now versatile, and he’s been good for past two seasons. But he’s 31- if teams weren’t willing to risk a multiyear deal on him at 29 or 30 are they going to be clamoring for it now?
I’ll say he gets two guaranteed years, from the Brewers.
Watch him sign a 4 year deal for top money and be a bust. Nothing against Moose, just that’s how it goes sometimes.
I’d say he could get 2/25. I think he’s worth a bit more, but obviously most teams haven’t thought so…
In other words, Moose is a perfect example that a team, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, who relies strictly on analytics when pursuing impact players, Miss out on the solid play of a player like Mike Moustakas.
I love having him in Milwaukee
i always like Moustakas as a player, for the Angels, or the Padres two years ago.
stan lee the manly
“Moustakas will always be more moose than antelope…”
This is by far the best line I have ever read on this site. Well done Jeff.
I always thought the Yankees would get him. He’s a solid defender with good power from the left side. Bad OBP, but his defense and power make up for that.
Yep it is
The guy was offered $50 million for 3 years by the Angels. He got greedy and missed the boat. I don’t feel sorry for him. Sick of the greed in pro sports.
Fake news. Both the Angels and Boras both confirmed that an offer was not made. It’s not greed it’s a business. Just like the stock market, some people get in/out at the right time and others do in fact miss the boat.
There are better players making less than him and worse players making more, can’t fault these guys for trying to get paid.