Red Sox: Mike Moustakas makes sense as free agent backup plan

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Mike Moustakas
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Mike Moustakas /

Free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas could be an appealing option for the Boston Red Sox if a slow market forces him to sign a short-term deal.

Before the Boston Red Sox brought Mitch Moreland back on a two-year deal there had been speculation that Eric Hosmer was one of the team’s top free agent targets. After finding a better value in Moreland, it would seem that Hosmer is off the table but what about his former Kansas City Royals teammate, Mike Moustakas?

I previously listed Moustakas as a free agent to avoid. The 38 home runs he tallied this year smashed his previous career-high by enough to leave us wondering if the power spike is sustainable, while his dismal walk rate results in an unappealing on-base percentage. His glove is average, at best, at the hot corner. These flaws, plus the concern that the home run total is a fluke, present too much risk to hand Moustakas a lucrative long-term deal.

This outlook could change if Moustakas was willing to sign a short-term deal, as ESPN’s Buster Onley speculates.

The market for third basemen has been slow to develop this winter with few teams having both the financial resources and need at the position to chase Moustakas. The Royals may be interested in retaining him, although that may be contingent on whether or not they can also keep Hosmer. Kansas City isn’t a contender without both of them so why shell out the money to impede their rebuilding plans if the playoffs would be a long shot?

The Los Angeles Angels signed shortstop Zack Cozart with the intention of sliding him over to third. The San Francisco Giants traded for Evan Longoria. Most teams with playoff aspirations heading into next season are now set at the hot corner, leaving few potential suitors for Moustakas.

While Moustakas is easily the top third base option on the free agent market, he’ll have competition from the potential trade options. The Baltimore Orioles have been shopping Manny Machado and the Toronto Blue Jays may make Josh Donaldson available. A one-year rental for either star third baseman may have more appeal that committing a long-term deal to a riskier commodity in Moustakas.

Which is why Olney believes that a short-term deal that potentially puts him back on the market next year is a viable path for Moustakas to consider. Whether it’s a one-year deal or a two-year where the second is a player option, it could provide him with the opportunity to find his big payday in a better market. The few potential suitors left for a third baseman may also be more inclined to jump at Moustakas if they only need to commit to a year or two.

Olney lists the Orioles and Yankees as prime landing spots for Moustakas if he takes a short-term deal. Baltimore could shift Machado over to his natural shortstop position to fit Moustakas but the holes in their pitching staff may still prevent them from competing with the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East. If the O’s end up trading away Machado then replacing him with an expensive free agent seems counterproductive. The Yankees are always a threat and have an opening at third base after trading away Chase Headley, yet that move was a pure salary dump intended to help New York duck the luxury tax. Adding Moustakas, even on a one-year deal, blows up those plans.

You can see why both AL East teams make some sense for Moustakas but there is another team in the division that could provide a better fit. That would be the Red Sox.

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Third base has gone overlooked as a need for the Red Sox since they have Rafael Devers locked in at the position but that should not dissuade Dave Dombrowski from kicking the tires on Moustakas.

They need Devers in the lineup next season but his bat is far more major league ready than his glove. Letting Moustakas handle the bulk of the defensive responsibilities while Devers serves as the primary designated hitter would help improve the infield defense. Moose isn’t great with the glove but he’s an improvement over Devers.

If Moustakas thrives in Boston then perhaps they consider re-signing him next year, keeping Devers at DH or transitioning him to first base. If he doesn’t pan out they could let Moose leave after a year and dive into next year’s free agent crop that could include Machado and Donaldson. Or they could go after Bryce Harper and move Devers back to third.

This plan is contingent on what happens with their current top free agent target, J.D. Martinez. If Boston manages to sign him as their primary DH then there’s no room for Moustakas. If Martinez signs with Boston then it probably takes the Red Sox out of the running for Machado or Harper next year. Both of those young superstars are more valuable than Martinez, yet they will also cost significantly more and there is risk in waiting for stars who might be available in a year.

Should the Red Sox stick with targetting the top power bat on the market to fill an immediate need or do they roll the dice on a one-year deal with Moustakas that potentially sets them up for a bigger star next year?

Next: Could the Red Sox trade Hanley Ramirez?

There is risk in either scenario but both could be appealing. If Boston misses out on Martinez then the decision could be made for them. If they aren’t open to at least considering the Moustakas scenario then they may end up with nothing.