Just Say No to Moose

Just Say No to Moose

New general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, has some serious questions to deal with. The Atlanta Braves are expected to be hit and hit hard by sanctions from Major League Baseball for former GM John Coppolella’s unethical actions. Even if we ignore that, the Braves have question marks all over the team right now. Are the young guns good enough to perform in the starting rotation right now? Can the bullpen finally turn the corner? Will the Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki combo produce again? What will Ozzie Albies‘s encore look like? Is Dansby Swanson a bust? Who gets pushed out of the way for Ronald Acuna? And just who in the hell is playing third base?

That last question just so happens to come at the exact time that a few legit major league third basemen are hitting the market. We’ve covered this question a few times and the biggest reason, I feel, we continue to come back to this question is recent history. Since Chipper Jones‘s last year, 2012, Atlanta ranks 27th of 30 clubs in 3B fWAR. Five times over the last five years, a third baseman eclipsed 7.1 fWAR in a single season. It took the Braves five years to get to that total as a team.

Trading for a third baseman makes a lot of sense. Some have suggested Anthropoulos’s connection to Josh Donaldson. That prompted Stephen to post some concerns the Braves would have for completing such a deal. The free agent market is also a possibility. Some have suggested Eduardo Nunez and Todd Frazier – free agents that would cost only cash money to acquire. The name, however, that continues to show up is Mike Moustakas. Some believe, with Anthopoulos’s penchant for big-time deals, that Moustakas makes for an easy target. MLB Trade Rumors predicted, before Anthopoulos was hired, that Moustakas would land in Atlanta for $85M over 5 years.

I don’t believe past circumstances are always a predictor of future moves, but even if I did, Mike Moustakas is absolutely the wrong choice for the Atlanta Braves.

“Moose” is coming off a year in which he bashed 38 home runs with a .249 ISO and a .272 batting average. By those simple metrics, he looks like a potential force in the lineup. At 29, he’s a few years younger than Nunez and Frazier and certainly has always looked the part of a difference maker in the Royals’ lineup. The problem comes down to value, though. More specifically, a lack of.

Only Joey Gallo hit more homers as a third baseman than Moustakas last year and only four third basemen bested the ex-Royal in ISO. However, 21 third basemen finished ahead of him in fWAR as Moustakas finished with a 2.2 fWAR. That’s nothing new. In 2015, a career-season for Moustakas in fWAR, he finished 13th. In fact, in six years, he’s finished in the top 10 in fWAR just once. To be fair, one of those years was lost to injury, but the fact is that Moustakas doesn’t stand out as a premier player for his position.

That’s concerning because he’s still the premier option at third base this winter. What happens when the best option available is also not a premier player? He gets overpaid. Usually, by a lot.

Moustakas will be 29 for most of the 2018 season and should continue to bash homers by the bushel for a number of years to follow, but the weaknesses in his game will take away much of that value. Moustakas has a career walk rate of 6.4%. Last year, it was 5.7%. When you compare that with a mediocre hit tool (career .251 AVG, .265 BABIP), that naturally means he’s going to have a poor OBP. That’s exactly what has happened throughout his career as he’s sitting on a .305 OBP. It spiked over .315 just once – in 2015 with a .348 OBP. It took a career-best .284 AVG, .295 BABIP, and 13 HBP to boost it that far.

That puts a strain on the rest of his game to supplement his power numbers. Those that have posted a 10 fWAR or better over the last five years despite an OBP under .310 have all been aided by defensive value and/or baserunning. Well, we know Moose isn’t much of a runner so let’s focus on defense.

When Moustakas arrived in the majors, he was a plus-defender, but those skills quickly eroded. His UZR/150 dropped from double digits in 2012-13 to 2.9 in 2014. He followed that up with a 1.4 and, skipping his injury-filled 2016, he fell under zero last year with a -3.6. That’s a stark difference from average-to-slightly above average to a definitely below average. It could also be a trend that was exacerbated by an injury. In late May of 2016, Moustakas blew out his knee, tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. His range at third had already taken a hit and it only worsened this season.

We can also look at his sprint speed and see a bit of a decline. In 2015, Moustakas’s sprint speed was 26.7 ft/sec. In 2017, it was 25.5 – good for seventh-worst among 3B. To put some perspective on it for Braves fans, Rio Ruiz‘s sprint speed last year was 26.6. Speed isn’t everything at third base, but when we look at how his range metrics fell and his DRS slipped from 4 in 2015 to -8, it’s a potential sign of a declining set of skills.

To be fair, one can argue that he’ll be better in 2018 because he’ll be two years post-injury and any lingering effects of the injury and the surgery that followed should be in the past. There could be some truth in that, though I’m in the camp of “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

So, we have a player whose entire value is wrapped in hitting homers. There’s no reason to think his power numbers will suffer significant decline during his next deal provided the contract he signs is capped at about four-to-five years. We’ll certainly see some decline to his overall game because that’s how the aging curve works, but it shouldn’t be too much. Typically, players decline at a slow rate from Age-29 until about Age-36, which shouldn’t affect his numbers in the next contract much. And let me be clear – I’m not sure Moustakas will be overpaid at any point of his next potential deal. This is more theoretical, but if one fWAR is worth about $8M and Moustakas signs a deal worth $16M AAV, it’s a reasonable use of funds.

But that idea isn’t put into team context. For the Braves, $16M represents 13% of a projected 2018 payroll of $125M. Even if you get creative and try to save money now to backload a deal – which would be a terrible idea – Moustakas is going to take up a significant chunk of salary. A team with a limited payroll cannot miss on free agents.

Here’s a prime example of not hitting on a free agent.

The Braves paid handsomely for the now-Melvin Upton and got burned. That’s not to say the same would happen with Moustakas, but the Braves would be banking on the same kind of thing. Simply put, Atlanta would hope that a flawed player would be able to remain valuable as he ages and that a large contract wouldn’t become an albatross to deal with. Upton was actually a better choice at the time due to being younger and playing center field. Former GM Frank Wren bet the house on Upton’s skill set of defense, athletism, speed, and power to make up for flaws in his game moving forward. It didn’t. Moustakas has even less to bank on.

There’s also the fact that Moustakas just declined a qualifying offer. That means the Braves would have to surrender either its third-highest or second-highest pick. Considering the boom that is coming after the MLB announces its punishments, this could be pivotal to the goal of adding talent to this system. If the Braves are banned from the international market for a year or two, they’ll have to hit on their draft picks to avoid lulls in development. Losing valuable draft choices will only make Anthropoulos’s job more difficult in that regard.

By now, I hope you agree with me that Moustakas just doesn’t make sense for the Atlanta Braves. His contract is too expensive, his value to the Braves is too small, and the effects of signing him could also hurt the Braves. Atlanta has to hit on their free agents. They have to really nail them. Moustakas is not that surefire free agent, though. The Braves should pass.

6 Comments

I have to disagree with you.

I actually don’t see Moose getting drastically overpaid this offseason. When you look at the clubs that need 3B, or just might want a bit of an upgrade- they’re not your typical big market spenders. The Angels would likely be the Braves stiffest competition there, and you even have to question how high they’ll really go after acquiring Upton. So if you can get good value there, you should- regardless of what percentage of the payroll it is.

Yes, there are flaws in Moose’s game. He doesn’t walk a ton, and his average is not usually that high. I’ll give you that. Comparing potentially signing him to the BJ Upton disaster is going apples to oranges, though. Upton’s game was largely built around speed, defense and athleticism. Those are all skills that are going to decline with age, it’s inevitable. I also feel playing in his brother’s shadow played a part in that, but that’s just a gut- so I’ll toss that out. Moose is a power guy though, who plays a solid 3B; which should hold up well for at least a half decade, barring injury.

What it really comes down to however is the Braves are a middle market team, at best. As such, they’re not going to be players for the Manny Machados and Josh Donaldsons of the world in free agency. They’re just going to get priced out of that market. So you move to the next tier down, where discounts come with drawbacks. Moose isn’t perfect, but he’s a good player who’d help protect Freddie in the order. He’d also solve a need without costing prospects, allowing AA more time to evaluate those guys. When the time is right, you can then flip some of that prospect capital for a frontline SP, if needed- another area middle market teams can’t pay to play in cash-wise.

So to me, Moose at 4yr/60mil would be the perfect offseason. If they go 5yr/80mil, it wouldn’t be terrible. Any more than that, it probably should be a pass.

I agree to an extent – I don’t think he’ll be overpaid in the literal sense. If his average annual value for his next contract is about $16 million – which I believe it will be – he’ll need to produce 10 fWAR or 12 fWAR in his next deal. I can’t imagine he doesn’t do that unless injury or unforeseen injuries lead him astray. But I also don’t see Moustakas providing enough value to make a team pinching their pennies like the Braves feel like they are getting enough bang for their buck. I’m less sure there won’t be a bidding war for his services, though. The Royals want to keep him, the Angels are interested, and the Yankees could also get involved.

I think the potential for continued defensive decline makes this kind of deal very suspect. Maybe Upton’s not a fair example – though I do believe he is. In fact, I think Upton was a better bet because while those skills you mention will decline, it was his power that made Upton the preferred choice over Bourn – at least in the eyes of Frank Wren and, if Frank’s brother is to be believed, John Coppolella. Another good example is Kemp. In Kemp, you have a player with a lot of power, but whose other skills are declining. While Moustakas is still relatively young, he’s unlikely to improve as a ballplayer. I agree that the Braves won’t be able to go after Machado or Donaldson on the free agent market. So my question becomes, in 2018, is Moustakas $16M better for the Braves than Camargo/Ruiz would be? In 2019, is he $16M better than Riley? In 2021, is he $16M better than Maitan provided he doesn’t get taken away?

It’s fair to say the Braves could trade him later on. But, as we’ve learned with Kemp, long-term deals can be easier to theoretically trade when they are signed than a few years later. To me, Moustakas is that guy you keep around because he’s better than your other options, not a guy you invest lots of money into. Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading.

I’m not sure if the Royals are going to be involved, or if they’re doing a bit of lip service. I feel it’s more of the latter; but if they’re genuine, you do raise a fair point that it might bump the market up some more. I’d wager money the Yankees don’t wade into the waters on Moose though, because I believe they’re serious about getting under the luxury tax for next year’s FA class.

On the topic of BJ, he did have more power than Bourn- so I can understand how Wren used that as a separator between the two. BJ’s game really wasn’t his power tool, though. He only had four seasons of 20+ HR: one of which he barely scraped the mark, his rookie year, and his last two in TB. To me, he was always more of a speed/defense guy.

Kemp is an interesting comparison, and possibly a bit more fair. Although, Kemp was an all star level player early in his career before his injuries robbed him of his legs. There’s always been some questions around him as to his work ethic, too. Had he rehabbed harder and kept his weight down, would he been less of a cautionary tale? By all accounts, Moose seems to have came back strong from his injuries.

Would Moose be 16m better than Carmargo and Ruiz? Absolutely! Camargo’s a nice utility player, but he’s not a starting 3B. Ruiz is nothing of note. If the Braves go into 18 with this set up, they’re punting on the year.

Would Moose be 16m better than Riley? It’s tough to say, but we’ll probably also have a hole in LF by the time we’d find out. Perhaps Riley can plug it if he’s the real deal, or be moved for a LF, or another piece.

As for Maitan, I feel it’s going to be a moot point because he’s going to be cut loose by MLB. Even if he’s not, the Moose contract would be nearing it’s end by the time Maitan arrives… so it wouldn’t be a huge hindrance.

That said, I do understand the reservations on Moose. Your article is well done, with some good points. I’m probably just a little higher on him than most. I also don’t want to see the Braves go through another season with an almost punch-less order.

No to Moose..EITHER go with a platoon of Ruiz/Carmago at 3rd OR take a chance on Austin Riley (if he rakes in Spring Training) on Opening Day!

Assuming that neither of those options pan out in 2018, I’d make a SERIOUS PLAY on signing Manny Machado…who will only be 26 going into The 2018 Free Agent Offseason! If we’re going to pay out serious cash for a 3rd sacker…I’d MUCH RATHER give it to Machado Long Term!

No to Moose. Don’t block Riley. Five years is too much. Two years for Frazier is much better to bridge to Riley. If you can’t get Frazier for two then Ruiz/Camargo for one until Riley is ready. Frazier is a solid defender so that makes that much more sense.

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