It’s not that he’ll be the biggest off-season free agency signing, but Mike Moustakas landing four years and $64 million from the Reds made quite a bit of noise to open the week. On the surface, the Reds seem to be shifting into win-now gear, after remaking their starting rotation last year. Below it?
It may prove a mixed bag. May.
“The Cincinnati Reds finished twelfth in the National League in on-base percentage (OBP) in 2019, ahead of two teams in strong pitchers’ parks and the underpowered Miami Marlins,” writes Smart Baseball author Keith Law for ESPN. “So of course, the Reds just committed four years to a 31-year-old hitter without a position who has posted a .320 or better OBP twice in seven full seasons in the majors.”
Law thinks, therefore, that Moustakas might have fit “a lot of clubs” but not the Reds. They needed an upgrade at the plate, finishing twelfth, too, in 2019 runs scored despite their delicious home hitters’ park. And whenever Moustakas played in Great American Ballpark until now, he wasn’t exactly a game buster: he’s hit a buck ninety-eight with a .578 OPS in the big bat-embraceable park to date.
The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark demurs from Law: he thinks the Reds “love the bat, love the fit and love the edge this guy plays with. They’re not more talented than the Cardinals, Brewers or Cubs as currently constituted. But in the times we live in, we should all be applauding any team that is trying to win. It sure beats the alternative.”
As a Brewer in 2019, Moustakas posted a career-high .845 OPS, a career-second .329 OBP, and a career-second 270 total bases. He also hit the second-highest season home run total of his career (35) and was able to drive in the second-highest number of runs in any of his nine seasons. The Reds like power and reaching base about equally, but Moustakas gives them far more of the former.
Since it looks as though Eugenio Suarez has a vise grip on the Reds’ third base job the plan seems to be shifting Moustakas to second base. Not a terrible thought, since he’s played the position before and shaken out as about the league average in the 47 games he did play there. He won’t injure them around the keystone.
He’s had an odd journey to this deal. When he first hit free agency, nobody but his incumbent Royals seemed to want him—and he settled for a single-season $6.5 million deal with the team he helped win two pennants and a World Series. And they traded him to the Brewers in 2018 while they were at it. He looked good enough for the Brewers to want him back; last winter’s mostly dead market turned into a single season and $10.5 million.
But the Reds are also buying a player who earns respect in his clubhouses, takes a few burdens off his managers that way, and also fits with manager David Bell’s penchant for double switching when the games get hot and tight, and a two-position infielder is a fine fit for it.
Banking on Moustakas’s power (he doesn’t walk much, he can be double play prone, and he has little basepath speed despite a satchel full of basepath smarts), defensive steadiness, and personality—including his postseason experience (two World Series, three League Championship Series, and this year’s wild card game)—may show the Reds mean business for 2020. And since they say they’re willing to spend a little more, Moustakas won’t be the only card the play this winter.
“When a team spends to sign a good player to aid their chances to win, it merits acknowledgment, if not applause,” writes another Athletic scribe, Andy McCullough. “At least the Reds are trying. And at least Moustakas got paid.” Right there that could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.