As the St. Louis Cardinals look for upgrades around the diamond, could Mike Moustakas be an option at third base as a stopgap?
Third base was a position that ended up being more of a timeshare in 2019 than the St. Louis Cardinals would’ve imagined at the beginning of the year. After the team signed Matt Carpenter to a two year, $39M extension, he ended up losing his starting role to rookie Tommy Edman.
Losing his starting job was warranted though as before September, Carpenter’s high-water mark for OPS was .762 in May. His improvement over the last 60 at-bats of the season is great, but the trend towards chaos in his performance is startling.
After disappearing for the first and last months of 2018, Carpenter pretty much disappeared the entire 2019 season until he hit for an .866 OPS in the final month of the season. This is not a trend that can continue much further without the Cardinals doing something drastic.
While Tommy Edman’s breakout helped make things easier on the Cardinals, there is a real argument to make that the Cardinals should find a stopgap at third base to provide some proven security to protect from both Carpenter continuing to downslide or Edman not being able to repeat his 2019.
Enter Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas is one of the prime examples of a player who’s stubbornness has cost him money. Two years ago, coming off of an All-Star campaign with the Royals, Moustakas and his notorious agent Scott Boras declined the qualifying offer and hoped for a better offer. After waiting all winter, that never came.
This was the 2017-2018 offseason, the first of the dead offseasons where nobody wanted to spend any money. After declining a one year, $17.4M deal in November Moustakas ended up signing back with the Royals for $6.5M after a year where he broke the franchise home run record (38 homers) and made $8.7M.
He was then traded to the Brewers mid-season and resigned with them last winter for $7M in 2019 and a mutual option for 2020 that the team declined. As a free agent now, Moustakas is 31 years old and coming off of a year where he hit for a .254/.329/.516 slash line with 35 homers and 87 RBIs playing third base (primarily) and a little bit of second base for the Brewers.
In past offseasons, Moustakas had been at least loosely linked to the Cardinals and so the question is, could he be a prime player to look at for a couple of years?
The benefit of Moustakas is that he would come in and immediately provide more production than Marcell Ozuna (who is likely gone). In the vast majority of offensive statistics, Moustakas was a better player than Ozuna.
The problem is that after calling Moustakas a “left-handed Matt Adams” last year, us fans and ultimately the Cardinals have to decide which player Moustakas is. He has had years where he has been a -8,-3,-2 DRS third baseman, and years where he was 0,2,3,14 DRS. He has had years where he was anywhere from 10%-17% better than average with the bat, then years where he was 10%-25% below average (via OPS+).
What I will say is that the Cardinals would be buying high on Moustakas. He didn’t set a career-high in homers at Miller Park, but he got close to matching his record-breaking total with the Royals. Moustakas has never been a big OBP guy and strikes out a lot, but in most years, he has the slugging to make that okay.
After signing one-year contracts the past two winters, the 31-year-old is probably going to be looking for something longterm, and that won’t be what the Cardinals want to give to yet another player on the wrong side of 30.
Moustakas, coming off of another All-Star campaign, also won’t want to stay at the sub-$10M paycheck he’s been at his entire career. While he has been inconsistent at times, he is a good player that some team is definitely going to offer more than anything the Cardinals are wanting to offer.
Moustakas is probably going to get something around the four to five year mark coming close to $80-$100 million. If, by some miracle, the Cardinals get to the month of February and Moustakas is still sitting on the market, and if he is open to a one year deal, then the Cardinals could jump in. Otherwise, they couldn’t compete with Moustakas’ market if they wanted to.
We all know what the Cardinals are going to do anyway, they are going to give Matt Carpenter all the chance in the world to bounce back, as they probably should, even though it’s not exciting or fun. Tommy Edman will get his chances to play across the diamond.
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In a perfect world, Moustakas makes sense for the Cardinals and I would take him for a year or two, but with Boras as his agent and coming off the year he had now at the age of 31, that all adds up to a situation the Cardinals will stay far away from.