The free-agent market is moving so slowly, one talent evaluator said this week, that January is about to become the new December. Teams once pushed to get their winter work done by the holidays, but now advanced analytics seems to have nudged a number of clubs into following the strategy used often by the Baltimore Orioles in recent offseasons -- just wait.
Wait ... for the high volume of free agents and supply/demand to manifest, and for some players to get left behind (and increasingly desperate).
Wait ... for the prices to drop, as some veterans explain to anxious family members over turkey and eggnog why they haven't signed a 2018 contract.
Wait ... for pictures to be published of team equipment trucks from Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and other cities departing for Arizona and Florida. Because agents will tell you that a lot of their clients are like geese, feeling the pull to migrate south for the start of spring training.
The numbers just say ... wait.
It may be that Mike Moustakas will find a new home soon. Moustakas, 29, is a good and respected third baseman with lots of postseason experience. He is coming off a season in which he hit 38 homers for the Kansas City Royals. So, unlike some of his free-agent peers, he's a lock to make a good salary somewhere in 2018.
But some of the teams with which he seemed to be a theoretical fit have come off the board. The Angels, for example, turned to Zack Cozart for their third-base solution on a three-year, $38 million deal. The Giants are starved for power and need a third baseman, making Moustakas a natural fit, but Brian Sabean has declared his team will shy away from signing free agents who are attached to draft-pick compensation -- and Moustakas would cost the Giants in the draft after turning down a qualifying offer from Kansas City.
Moustakas also has some unexpected company in the third-base market -- even after the signing of Cozart -- that might be affecting his options. The Orioles have been talking with other teams about Manny Machado trade offers, and some of the clubs view Machado as a third baseman rather than a shortstop. The Tampa Bay Rays are seemingly prepared to unload Evan Longoria, who is owed at least $86 million for the next five seasons. The Cardinals are open to the idea of adding a third baseman and have had some interest in the Jays' Josh Donaldson. So there has been a lot of talk about third basemen other than Moustakas.
There's no guarantee this would be different next fall, when Machado and Donaldson will be among the premier free agents. But if Moustakas' market does not adequately develop in his eyes, and those of his agent, Scott Boras, Moustakas might need to consider the same strategy Nelson Cruz and others have followed -- take a short-term deal with a team, then reset with an opportunity to head back into free agency next fall.
Moustakas hit a lot of homers this year, but it was not an ideal season of market-building for him. He posted an on-base percentage of .314, and evaluators have talked on background about concern over Moustakas' body, with a question of how long he'll hold up.
If Moustakas is better served by arranging a one-year agreement with another team in 2018, he would seem to have three outstanding options at his disposal:
1. The Orioles. They could try to land Moustakas and install him at third whether or not they keep Machado, because if Machado stays in Baltimore, he'll likely move back from third to shortstop. Batters love to hit at Camden Yards, a bandbox with what hitters say is tremendous lighting. Moustakas does not have good numbers in Baltimore in his small sample size of games, with a .714 OPS in 19 games, but he could do some serious damage with the Orioles.
2. The Yankees. It's hard to imagine a more perfect fit for the left-handed-hitting Moustakas than Yankee Stadium, because he generates a lot of fly balls, he tends to pull the ball, and the Dimensions That Ruth Built tend to greatly reward left-handed fly ball hitters who pull the ball. Moustakas was 15th in fly ball percentage last season among all qualified MLB hitters, and 40th in pull percentage.
It just so happens the timing is right for the Yankees, who need a third baseman and have some additional payroll flexibility after dumping the $13.5 million contract of Chase Headley.
The addition of Moustakas would help balance a Yankees lineup that currently leans to the right after the Giancarlo Stanton trade. Here's what the Yankees' batting order might look like if Moustakas joined -- and he would get tons of run-scoring opportunities:
3. The Cardinals. Baseball ops honcho John Mozeliak has expressed reluctance in giving up prospects for a short-term solution, but if he pursued Moustakas, the Cardinals could keep their minor-leaguers and just use some of their plentiful dollars, whether in a short-term deal (or a longer contract). Royals fans would not be happy, of course, to see Moustakas move to the other side of Missouri.