You’re Alex Anthopoulos. All is quiet on the free agent front. You have roughly $15 million – maybe more – still in your budget for payroll. You look at your team and you see a lot of possibilities, but there are at least two things that stand out as concerns. First, over a third of the home runs hit by the Braves last year came from guys no longer around. Fifty-nine home runs are gone for a team that finished with the third-fewest homers in the NL. You’ve added Preston Tucker and Charlie Culberson. Might want to address that.
Second, the franchise is still looking for answers at third base. Sure, Johan Camargo hit .299/.331/.452 last season and the switch-hitter looks even more buff now. But you also know that coming into 2017, Camargo had a minor league OPS of under .700. There are reasons to believe Camargo is a late bloomer. There also must be concerns with putting a lot of hope in his unproven bat. Another option, Rio Ruiz, hit four homers in 173 PA last year but also hit .193. Your scouts still believe he could be a possible asset, but you’re not very enthusiastic.
And then you say to yourself: perhaps I can do the whole two birds, one stone bit. Why add a power bat and a proven third baseman when you can add a power bat who happens to be a proven third baseman? And wouldn’t ya know it? Two options are currently available for the plucking. Which will you choose?
Option 1: Mike Moustakas
3-Yr Sample: .275/.329/.496, .348 wOBA, 118 wRC+, -2 rPM, -3 DRS, 0.9 UZR, 6.6 fWAR
2018: Age-29, .266/.326/.499, .345 wOBA, 113 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR Steamer projection
Option 2: Todd Frazier
3-Yr Sample: .233/.317/.466, .334 wOBA, 110 wRC+, 14 rPM, 14 DRS, 9.9 UZR, 10.0 fWAR
2018: Age-32, .235/.322/.446, .328 wOBA, 101 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR Steamer projection
Note: Moustakas missed much of the 2016 season due to injury. Also, Frazier’s defensive numbers – except for what fWAR uses as part of its calculation – were entirely from third base.
To be fair, there exists another option – Eduardo Nunez – but I didn’t include him because he doesn’t provide the power numbers I’m looking for.
When the offseason began, Braves fans were having this debate already. In fact, on November 17, I looked at this exact quandary and held that Moustakas didn’t make a lot of sense for the Braves. I encourage you to read that post so you can compare-and-contrast with my thoughts now.
While a slow market was predicted, the snail’s pace this market has moved – with so few buyers – has been surprising. What I saw in Moustakas was a guy that was going to be paid a ton by simply being the best option available at third base. He would likely not only cash in a big money deal but a long contract. Guys with his profile – weak on-base skills, troublesome defensive metrics, a game completely predicated on power – can come around to bite you hard in the future when you are paying them the going rate for a 29-year-old power-hitting third baseman when they’re 34.However, the market could have changed since then. Or, should I say, it should have changed. Guys like Moustakas can either continue to demand something in the neighborhood of $80 million over five years or they can adapt to what the market will pay because, well, it ain’t $80 mil. My concerns in November of what a Moustakas might look like in Year 5 or – gasp! – Year 6 of a possible deal seem a bit overdone now. At this point, Moustakas might only be able to gobble up a three-or-four-year contract. That certainly makes him a more attractive option. Especially if you consider that the average annual value (AAV) could also be less than it would have been earlier in the offseason.
On the other side of things, Frazier was always a short-term buy. He’ll turn 32 in about a week-and-a-half so he’s a tad older. Frazier has quietly been a steady contributor over the last four years with at least 27 home-runs and a 2.5 fWAR in each season. Despite consistency and durability, the prevailing belief was that Frazier would receive an AAV similar to Moustakas, but over fewer seasons because he was three years older. If Moustakas’ demands have withered down to a 3-year pact, Frazier might only need a two-year commitment.
Before you decide who is the right choice, there are a few things you need to know.
Moustakas is a left-hand hitter. That would mean if you teamed him up with Freddie Freeman in the heart-of-the-order, Brian Snitker would be nervous considering opposing managers would often use left-hand specialists against the duo. Moustakas isn’t inept against left-hand pitching, though. Over the last three years, he posted a .341 wOBA and 114 wRC+ against southpaws. Meanwhile, as most pitchers are right-handed, Frazier has a .326 wOBA and 104 wRC+ when losing the platoon advantage.
Moving on, Frazier was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer after being traded during the 2017 season. Moustakas was extended a qualifying offer by the Royals, which he declined. Signing him would mean losing the Braves’ third-highest draft pick, which is currently their fourth-round choice. For a team with a reduced ability to sign international talent, losing another draft choice – and the slot bonus with it – must weigh on your mind.
So, Alex Anthopoulos, make a choice. Will you go for Moustakas? Yes, you lose your fourth-round pick. But you could potentially add a big thumper to the lineup on just a three-year contract. Moustakas is the better hitter of the two options and a better bet to keep on hitting with his age advantage. His defense looked worse coming off an injury, though. Will that trend continue?
Or do you go with Frazier? After all, unlike Moustakas, you are getting a guy whose defense is definitely not declining. Plus, you don’t lose a potentially valuable draft choice. You also force managers to make more decisions late in games if you have Frazier following Freeman. Again, Moustakas hits lefties fairly well so the impact here is not nearly as significant. One last thing – if fit is the ultimate concern, Frazier may be the guy. Unlike Moustakas, Frazier has played other positions, including first base and the corner outfield positions. He could shift away from third base should Austin Riley play his way into the picture.
I guess the choice comes down to this: do you want the better hitter or do you want the better fit?
Make your choice.
(Or don’t and go with Camargo. For many people, that will be the obvious choice and that’s fine in my book. But, come on, play along. Choose between the two.)