Third baseman Mike Moustakas is no longer a Royal.
The Royals traded Moustakas to the Milwaukee Brewers late on Friday night. The Royals received outfielder Brett Phillips, who will join the major-league club as soon as possible, according to team officials, and right-handed pitcher Jorge Lopez in exchange.
Phillips, 24, was hitting .240 with 12 doubles, seven triples and six home runs in 71 games for Class AAA Colorado Springs. Lopez, 25, also spent most of his season at Colorado Springs. He posted a 5.65 ERA in 24 relief appearances, earning five saves in seven opportunities. Lopez was optioned to Omaha.
Trading Moustakas was inevitable. The Royals signed him to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2019 for $6.5 million during spring training with the intent of flipping him for the right price at the deadline. Even then, manager Ned Yost was not sure the right trade would materialize.
“We wanted to make sure we got the right deal,” Yost said in his Yankee Stadium office Saturday morning. “It’s like people were trying to — you know, OK, here take this guy, take this. No, this is what we want. We want these guys. So I wasn’t sure if we were gonna make it. And (general manager Dayton Moore) wasn’t gonna make a deal just to make a deal. I wasn’t sure. I mean I felt like we were gonna probably trade him but I wasn’t 100 percent sure. “
Moustakas, 29, compiled a 13.4 Baseball-Reference WAR and batted .251 across 934 games with the Royals. His 139 home runs rank eighth in franchise history, four fewer than John Mayberry’s 143 and 21 shy of matching Alex Gordon and Frank White’s 160. Moustakas might have been closer to the top of the career home runs list had he not torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and undergone season-ending surgery after he collided with Gordon on a play in foul territory in Chicago in late May 2016.
Last year’s American League Comeback Player of the Year, Moustakas clubbed a franchise-record 38 home runs in 2017. He was slowed by a swollen knee toward the end of the season but still eclipsed Steve Balboni’s mark of 36 homers in the 16th game he appeared in after tying the record on Sept. 1.
Moustakas, a two-time All-Star, set career highs in runs scored (75), RBIs (85), slugging percentage (.521) and total bases (289) in 2017. Despite posting those numbers in his final season before becoming a free agent, Moustakas languished on the open market after turning down the Royals’ qualifying offer of $17.4 million. He accepted a salary on March 10 that would, with an additional $2.2 million in performance bonuses, match the $8.7 million he earned in 2017.
Moustakas burst out of the gates on opening day and hit .302 with six doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 19 RBIs in his first 28 games. But as the Royals’ record dipped, so did Moustakas’ average. With fewer hits falling his way, Moustakas found himself batting .249 with 20 homers in 98 games this season prior to Friday’s trade.
Even then, he had been the subject of trade speculation for weeks. And how couldn’t he have been? Moustakas set a Royals record for home runs in a postseason with five in 2014. He was one of the few still on the Royals’ roster this season who captured back-to-back American League Championships in 2014 and 2015 and won the World Series in 2015.
Moustakas was the epitome of the brand of baseball Moore sought to bring to Kansas City when he accepted his job in 2006.
The Brewers, who signed former Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract in January, pulled the trigger. A December 2010 trade with the Brewers that netted Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi — Odorizzi was flipped to the Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis in December 2012 — was pivotal to the beginning of the Royals’ postseason run four years ago. The Brewers, who have a 60-46 record and are chasing their first playoff berth since they won the National League Central Division in 2011, hope to see the favor returned as Moustakas joins Cain and Joakim Soria in Milwaukee.
Combined with the free-agent exits of Cain and first baseman Eric Hosmer, Moustakas’ departure reinforces the reality of the end of an era that saw Kansas City celebrate its first World Series championship in 30 years.
“Trading Mike Moustakas is not easy, in parting with him,” Moore said on a conference call with reporters. “He was our (regime’s) first selection in 2007, the very first player that we drafted. He is forever a part of Royals history in a very meaningful way. He’s somebody the fans always loved and connected with because of his passion to win on the field.”
Where they were previously at a disadvantage, the Royals will now have a glut of outfielders at the major-league level as Jorge Soler works his way back from a broken bone in his left foot.
Phillips, a sixth-round pick of the Astros in the 2012 draft out of Seminole (Fla.) High School, will likely be worked in at center field alongside Brian Goodwin, whom the Royals acquired from the Nationals on Sunday, and Rosell Herrera. He will also get time in right field, where his 80-grade arm impressed Yost’s son, Ned Jr., who is a coach for the Brewers’ Class AAA affiliate.
“He said ‘I’ve seen him hit with power and for average,’” Yost said. “He said it was more last year than this year, been kind of a struggle for him this year. But a phenomenal, tremendous, off-the-chart makeup. Loves to play the game, plays the game with energy and just hustles his ass off.”
Phillips was the Astros’ second-ranked prospect when he was traded by Houston along with pitchers Adrian Houser and Josh Hader and right fielder Domingo Santana to the Brewers for outfielder Carlos Gomez, right-hander Mike Fiers and other considerations on July 30, 2015. He made his major-league debut June 5, 2017, and has batted .257 (28 for 109) with three doubles, one triple, four homers and 16 RBIs across stints in two seasons. He last played for the Brewers from July 15-25. Baseball America ranked Phillips as the Brewers’ seventh-best player after the 2017 season.
Lopez, a native of Cayey, Puerto Rico, was selected by the Brewers in the second round of the 2011 draft out of the Caguas Military Academy (P.R.). He made his major-league debut on Sept. 29, 2015, and was last with the Brewers this week.
“(Phillips has) played center and we’re trying to make over our outfield,” Moore said. “The bottom line is we’re going to look at those guys in a variety of different roles.”