MLB Hot Stove: Will the market allow the Yankees to afford Mike Moustakas?
He'd be a good fit in the Bronx, but can they make it work and still stay under the luxury tax threshold?
We're headed toward late February and third baseman Mike Moustakas -- coming off a 38-homer season in 2017 -- remains unsigned. That's the case for a number of notable free agents, as so often discussed this winter. The market for Moustakas, though, may be thin even by those standards.
In part, that because the Padres recently inked Moustakas' former Royals teammate Eric Hosmer to . Royals general manager Dayton Moore had been holding out hope for a "reunion tour" of sorts with Hosmer and perhaps Moustakas, but the Padres' bold bid has likely snuffed out those plans ...
By extension, that also means that Moustakas probably won't be going back to Kansas City. Eyeball the depth charts, and natural fits for Moustakas are hard to find. The Cardinals have been linked to him, but they don't seem inclined to make any further notable additions, at least in terms of hitters. Between a healthy Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko, the Cardinals, you could argue, should be fine at the hot corner. Absent any trades that create roster holes, the Yankees may be the most logical landing spot for Moustakas. Such a pairing has of course been rumored for some time.
The issue for the Yankees, though, is their determination to stay under the competitive balance tax threshold -- informally known as the "luxury tax" threshold -- for 2018. Said limit is $197 million for 2018, and the Yankees have roughly $15 million to spend and still meet that goal. Coming into the current offseason, signing Moustakas, who's 29 and has a strong history of hitting for power and adding value with the glove, for $15 million per seemed an unlikely proposition. But things haven't unfolded as anticipated.
First, he's very much a fit for the Yankees. Presently, they have Miguel Andujar penciled in as their regular third baseman. The 23-year-old is generally regarded as a top-100 prospect, and as such he has long-term potential. Obviously, though, he's not a guarantee to produce right away. Unlike Andujar, Moustakas is more of a known quantity in the here and now, and also unlike Andjuar he hits from the left side. Speaking of which, take a look at Moustakas' spray charts from the last five seasons:
Note the home runs in black. That, people, is left-handed pull power, and that's an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium, especially when fellow boppers Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez all hit from the right side. So Moustakas pins down third, and in doing so he doesn't block the path of top prospect Gleyber Torres, who could very soon fill the void at second base or perhaps dislodge Didi Gregorius at short.
Now, the money ... Moustakas doesn't have much of a market right now, and he also turned down a qualifying offer from the Royals, which means that signing him will cost his new team a draft pick or two and perhaps some international signing bonus money. Those are significant hits, and that will be reflected in whatever contract he eventually signs. The hope for the Yankees is that Moustakas' post-Royals market is so diminished that he's willing to take a one-year "pillow" contract and try the market again next year heading into his age-30 campaign. Whether he'd do that and take a mere $15 million or so is far from certain. (Perhaps the Yankees would need to clear additional budget space by, say, stapling a couple of prospects to Jacoby Ellsbury's contract.)
All that said, what we may be seeing is a slow-moving market as opposed to a market that favors the buyer to any extreme. If that's the case, then the Yankees aren't going to be able to afford Moustakas while resetting their tax penalties. After parting ways with Starlin Castro and Chase Headley this winter, though, the Yankees may need some reliability in the infield. Moustakas would give them that and then some, and the going rates might be such that signing Moose doesn't compromise their long-term vision. Maybe none of that comes to pass, but the Royals' newly cemented status as rebuilders makes it more of a possibility.
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