On Thursday night, news broke that third baseman Mike Moustakas had re-signed with the Kansas City Royals for, essentially, one year and $6.5 million (a $5.5 million base salary for one year, plus a mutual option for a second, with a $1 million buyout). For a player we projected just a few months ago to sign for four years and $76 million, it was one of the most shockingly light contracts of all time.
Yes, there were reasons a market never developed for Moustakas. Third base is an astonishingly deep position across baseball, and the few contenders that lacked a solid option there (Angels, Giants, Yankees) either found answers early in the offseason or swore off spending. That left Moustakas with a true dearth of potential suitors.
But still — one year, $6.5 million. The Royals will pay Moustakas the same amount that they’ll pay Travis Wood, who no longer plays for them. Big leaguers who will make more than Moustakas, a 2017 All-Star, include Jordy Mercer, Junichi Tazawa and Adam Ottavino. Given the depressed market, it’s no surprise Moustakas failed to find a long-term deal. But it’s downright jarring to see him settle for a middle reliever’s salary.
You would think that even if general managers without a gaping hole at third base or a strong likelihood of contention in 2018 couldn’t justify giving Moustakas a big deal, at least one outside of Kansas City would have found value in offering him a small one. Here is a list of teams, in no particular order, that could have seemingly found a role for Moustakas at, say, one year and $8 million.
New York Yankees
Instead of signing Moustakas to a one-year deal that would have kept them comfortably under the luxury-tax threshold, the Yankees traded a genuine prospect for the uninspiring Brandon Drury. Even with Drury aboard, New York could have found at-bats for Moustakas.
St. Louis Cardinals
For a team on the playoff bubble entering the season, you’d think upgrading over Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko for this price would have been a no-brainer.
The Braves hope to emerge from their rebuild soon, and they could have accelerated the process, at little cost, by signing Moustakas and pushing Johan Camargo into a utility role.
After a quiet offseason, the Tribe could have cheaply upgraded their weakest position (with Jose Ramirez playing second base).
San Diego Padres
The Padres have already added one former Royal (Eric Hosmer) in a surprising nod toward contention. Surely, they could have cast aside Chase Headley for a dirt-cheap Moustakas deal.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox made rumblings this offseason about adding big names in a push toward accelerated improvement. Moustakas would have plugged one of their biggest holes.
Tampa Bay Rays
We know the Rays are tearing things down, but an organization that has always had an eye for value could have found a few million dollars to throw at Evan Longoria’s replacement.
Between third base (where Matt Chapman figures to start) and DH, the A’s could have found at-bats for Moustakas and given themselves a slightly better shot at a surprise run.
Yet as far as we know, none of those teams expressed serious interest, and so Moustakas returns to Kansas City as one of the most underpaid free agents in modern baseball history.