It’s not much of a secret who the Yankees should be pursuing for the infield this offseason. Didi Gregorius is out while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, while generational, 26-year-old talent Manny Machado lingers in free agency. The Yankees welcomed Machado to the Bronx on Wednesday for an official visit. Based on their recent spending habits, or lack thereof, it’s hard to imagine Hal Steinbrenner breaking the bank for Machado, despite teasing this year’s free agent class as an opportunity to change the landscape of the American League.
So, should the Yanks (foolishly) pass on Machado, they would have to shift their focus to a far less talented, but far less costly infielder who could try and plug the Gregorius-sized hole on the current depth chart. Names like Daniel Murphy, Neil Walker and Troy Tulowitzki have surfaced, but what about Mike Moustakas?
Moustakas, who recently turned 30, set a Royals record by swatting 38 home runs in 2017, before settling on a meager one-year, $6.5 million deal last winter to return to Kansas City. He was eventually traded to the upstart Brewers, but a change in scenery and a sudden thrust into World Series contention didn’t jolt Moustakas into much more than a slightly above average season, finishing 2018 with a 105 wRC+, his lowest mark since 2014.
Moustakas’ slugging percentage fell from .521 in 2017 to .459 last year, despite his posting the second-highest average exit velocity against fastballs and breaking balls since 2015, per StatCast. According to xStats, which looks to objectively predict statistical outcomes with a focus on exit velocity, launch angle and quality of contact, Moustakas was at a .359 xOBA last year, higher than his actual number of .332. So, would baseball karma turn for Moustakas next year, and help him return to his 2017 levels of production?
One of the factors that could make Moustakas an attractive temporary fill-in for the Yanks is his lefty bat in the Bronx. Gregorius leaves behind a powerful lefty bat that capitalized on the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Moustakas in the Bronx could have a similar effect on the right field porch, given his pull rate on home runs over his career. Considering Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is 330 feet down the right field line and 385 to right center, a smaller right field in the Bronx would be even more homer-friendly for the lefty.
Again, this shouldn’t be the Yankees’ desired course of action. They have loads of money at their disposal, so an elite infield talent like Machado should be Plan A. If the Yanks continue their frustrating, penny-pinching offseason, Moustakas could emerge as a candidate. He’s reportedly received interest from the Mets, but other than that, his hot stove is hardly boiling. His infield glove is definitely an upgrade from Miguel Andujar, which isn’t saying much. However, Moustakas has minimal big league experience away from the hot corner, so where does Andujar fit? Of course, if the Yanks were to sign Machado instead, there would be no such conflict.