The Reds have made their first, but not last, big splash in the free agent market. They’ve signed infielder Mike Moustakas to a reported (Jeff Passan, ESPN) 4-year, $64 million contract. Moustakas, who turned 31 in September, will likely play 2B for the Reds. He’s a left-handed hitter and throws right-handed. Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com ranked Moustakas the #13 free agent in this class (the #6 hitter). Tim Dierkes at MLBTR had Moustakas #18. The FanGraphs staff had him at #14.
The Kansas City Royals selected Moustakas with the #2 overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Chatsworth HS near Los Angeles. He debuted with the Royals in June 2011 at the age of 22. Moustakas played 3B for Kansas City until the 2018 trade deadline when the Royals traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers. Moustakas played 3B for the Brewers in 2018 as they won the NL Central championship. He re-signed with the Brewers for 2019. Moustakas played 3B about two-thirds of the time and 2B (359 innings) the rest. Moustakas declined a $10 million option with the Brewers for 2020 and still earned a $3 million buyout.
For a rough measurement, Moustakas has been a 3-WAR player the past two seasons.
Last season for the Brewers, he hit .254/.329/.516 with 35 home runs. That was good for a 113 wRC+ which means he produced runs at a rate of 13% above league average. Moustakas has focused on drawing more walks since he’s played for Milwaukee. He’s moved from a walk rate of 7% overall his time in Kansas City to about a 9% rate with the Brewers. His AVG and OBP were slightly above league average (.251/.323).
Moustakas had a wOBA of .348 and xwOBA of .349 in 2019. So he wasn’t lucky or unlucky. His outcome stats reflected how he hit the ball. League average is .318. At .349 he was about half way between Eugenio Suarez (.355) and Joey Votto (.343). Jesse Winker’s xwOBA was .352. His hard-hit% (40.7%) was right around the rate of Suarez (40.8%) and Winker (40.7%). League average was 34.5%.
Moustakas’ numbers dipped at the end of 2019 after he hook a batted ball off his wrist on August 26. He had an 118 wRC+ prior to the injury and just a 78 wRC+ afterward.
Moustakas doesn’t have a pronounced career left-right split. In 2019, he hit better against LHP (122 wRC+) than he did against RHP (109 wRC+). But he’s hit better against RHP overall, but the margin is close.
The average of two projection systems for Moustakas in 2020: .258/.322/.496 with 33 homers.
Moustakas had been a 3B his entire career prior to 2019. But he started 2019 as the Brewers everyday 2B. With the arrival of Keston Hiura in mid-May, Moustakas moved back to third. At third, Moustakas was a good fielder, but not Gold Glove great. At 2B, he was about average.
Implications for the Reds
Resolves Senzel’s Position Barring unforeseen developments (trading Eugenio Suarez), Moustakas slots in at 2B for the Reds. Remember, he’s signed for four years. That seems to settle the question of where Nick Senzel will play, not only in 2020 but also long-term. Senzel will remain the Reds CF. That could change, with Senzel moving to a corner OF slot, but the most likely scenario as of right now is Senzel in CF and Moustakas at 2B.
Payroll We don’t know what budget ownership has set for the front office. Assuming a solid but not huge increase, our best guess is that the Reds had about $40 million to spend on new acquisitions. That assumed the non-tenders for Peraza (which has happened) and Gausman and a declined option for Freddy Galvis. The Reds have picked up the option on Galvis for $5.5 million. If reports of Moustakas’ contract are accurate ($16 million a year) between Galvis and him, the Reds have spent about half of their budget for new acquisitions. Four years is a longish contract for this situation.
Postseason Experience Between his time with the Royals and Brewers, Moustakas has played in 42 postseason games, including 12 in the World Series. He hasn’t set the world on fire in those games (.211/.256/.354) but batters usually face strong pitching in the postseason. He’s been on a World Series winning team and two divisional champions. If that experience is a thing of value, Moustakas has it.
Next Move Again, assuming the front office doesn’t go way off the wall, the Reds should be done in the CF market. They could still pursue Didi Gregorius for SS, making Freddy Galvis a utility player. They could still shop in the catcher market. And they could look to trade a young corner outfielder in exchange for a more experienced and established hitter. Maybe they’ll sign another big free agent bat (Marcell Ozuna, Nick Castellanos) and trade a young corner OF for pitching or catching.
It has certainly been their MO to bring on at least one veteran relief pitcher, even though that’s a crap shoot. It’s possible they look to sign a credible starting pitcher, if the price is right.
Mike Moustakas improves the Reds offense by a considerable amount. Moustakas is not a big bat like Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson. But he’s well above average and his recent performance hasn’t been fluky.
The Reds still have a serious chunk of money to spend. It will be interesting to see if they spend it mostly in one place or spread it around to several players. I have a feeling that today’s signing was just a start of an eventful offseason and they aren’t anywhere near done making big, surprising moves.
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