In less than a week, the Royals’ pitchers and catchers will report to spring training, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas remain free agents.
This is not a sentence I expected to type in 2018.
In a short interview with The Star on Tuesday, Royals general manager Dayton Moore reiterated that his club was still pursuing Hosmer. Yet the market for Moustakas appears to be a mystery.
The Royals have mostly remained on the sidelines, in part because of their status as a rebuilding club, in part because they prefer Hosmer to be part of that rebuilding plan. Moustakas is 29 years old and will likely be productive for the next three to four seasons. It’s harder to see him as a safe bet in the long term, when the Royals expect to be competitive again.
Here’s something, though, that becomes more startling the closer you look. There really are so few options for Moustakas at this point, at least among the usual suspects. And the search offers an interesting window into the market. Let’s take a look, starting with last year’s playoff teams.
The Houston Astros? No, they have Alex Bregman. The Dodgers have Justin Turner. The Chicago Cubs are set with Kris Bryant. The Yankees — well, wait a minute, here, more on them in a moment.
The Boston Red Sox appear to have a long-term answer in former top prospect Rafael Devers. The Washington Nationals have an MVP candidate in Anthony Rendon. Same with the Cleveland Indians and Jose Ramirez. The Colorado Rockies have one of the best players in the world in Nolan Arenado. The Arizona Diamondbacks have Jake Lamb, a 26-year-old who has batted .248/.345/.498 with 59 homers across his last two seasons and is just entering his arbitration years. (Moustakas hit .272/.314/.521 with 38 homers last season.)
That leaves the Minnesota Twins, who have some combination of Miguel Sano and Eduardo Escobar and limited financial means.
OK, but what about teams that are on the cusp of contention or at least trying? Well, that’s where the problem continues.
The Los Angeles Angels were thought to be a likely destination but they signed former Reds shortstop Zack Cozart. The San Francisco Giants traded for Evan Longoria. The Mets just signed Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million deal.
(Remember, MLB Trade Rumors estimated that Moustakas could command a five-year, $85 million deal this winter.)
Moving along, the Texas Rangers have an aging but still productive Adrian Beltre on their roster. They’re also building more toward the future with the Astros and Angels in their division. The Seattle Mariners have Kyle Seager, who is in the middle of a seven-year, $100 million deal. The St. Louis Cardinals could be a fit, but they have Jedd Gyorko, who hit .272/.341/.472 with 20 homers in 125 games last season while recording 3.6 wins above replacement. The Milwaukee Brewers have Travis Shaw, who batted .273/.349/.513 with 31 homers and still hasn’t reached arbitration. Cheap production.
That’s 17 teams. And now we’ve started to reach a collection of teams that are not necessarily trying to compete.
Among them: The Tigers, White Sox, Rays, Athletics, Braves, Marlins, Pirates, Reds and Padres. All are in some stages of a rebuild.
So are the Phillies, though they did add first baseman Carlos Santana. Their payroll is still very low. Then there are the Toronto Blue Jays (who have Josh Donaldson for another season) and Baltimore Orioles (who have Manny Machado and Tim Beckham on the left side of the diamond). Both teams appear on the decline, though perhaps not quite tearing it down yet.
And now we’ve reached the Royals, who are rebuilding, loathe to add salary, and if they do, remain more interested in Hosmer.
That’s all 30 teams.
Here, then, is the story of one player, a player expected to be among the most coveted on the market, and you can see the difficulties of this offseason.
So what happens for Moustakas? Well, perhaps he can hope the Yankees become interested, even on a one-year deal. His skillset would be suited for Yankee Stadium, where he could potentially eclipse 40 homers. But New York has been consistent in its desire to remain under the luxury tax.
If not the Yankees, Moustakas could have to hope that one of those rebuilding teams decides to open up the pocketbook.
Most teams would benefit from having Mike Moustakas in their lineup. That’s clear. But with so many rebuilding teams hesitant to spend, the market has folded. Is there a team out there interested in giving Moustakas the kind of contract he expected when the offseason began? That’s less clear.