As we broke down this morning, the Milwaukee Brewers would still have a sub-$70 mil payroll if the 2018 season began today. Fortunately we are still 30 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Maryvale Baseball Park and basically every top free agent remains available, so it shouldn’t come as much of a shock when rumors emerge that David Stearns and company are looking at a wide range of possibilities regarding how to spend all that extra dough. With that said, the report that surfaced this morning truly was a surprise (though we should keep in mind to consider the source on this one):
#Brewers continue to be “in” on RHP Jake Arrieta & also 3B Michael Moustakas with the idea that if they signed Moustakas they could trade Travis Shaw to NYY, ATL or NYM according to a club source.— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) January 15, 2018
The Brewers have been connected to Arrieta throughout the winter and are believed to be one of six teams that has submitted a contract offer for him to consider, but this is the first time that Moustakas’ name has been mentioned as a possibility for Milwaukee. No one would consider the hot corner a “need” for the Brewers after the breakout season that Travis Shaw put together in 2017. After being acquired by the Red Sox last December, the 27 year old took over as the everyday third baseman and wound up batting .273/.49/.513 with 31 home runs and 10 stolen bases. That translated to a 119 wRC+ and along with his capable handling of the hot corner, earned him the title of #1 Most Valuable Brewer according to BCB readers.
But throughout his tenure with Milwaukee, Slingin’ Stearns has shown that he’s willing to consider any and all avenues to improving his roster and this could certainly be one way to go about it. Moustakas is no slouch himself, coming off a season where he batted .272/.314/.521 (114 wRC+) with a franchise-record 38 home runs for the Kansas City Royals. Though he missed most of the 2016 season after tearing his ACL, the 29 year old has slashed .275/.329/.496 with 67 home runs in 322 games since the start of the 2015 season while posting hard contact rates north of 31% each year. Moustakas doesn’t walk a ton but he also owns a strikeout rate of just 15.5% for his career, a departure from the swing-and-miss tendencies possessed by most of Milwaukee’s offense. He’s considered a generally solid defender at third base, which is the only position he’s played during his parts of seven seasons in at the Major League level. It’s worth mentioning that Moustakas is a client of Scott Boras, who has a history of wheeling and dealing with Mark Attanasio.
If the Brewers were to sign Moustakas it would almost certainly mean a trade of Shaw or first baseman Eric Thames (which would then shift Shaw to first) to clear room on the infield. Shaw’s youth, four remaining seasons of club control, and ability to play a more premium defensive position all help to give him much more value on the trade market than Thames would fetch, though. ‘Moose’ was projected for a five-year, $85 mil contract by MLB Trade Rumors when the winter began, though it’s unlikely that Milwaukee would end up having to pay that much as front offices appear to have collectively waited out free agency in an effort to get prices to drop. If the Brewers signed Moustakas, then perhaps Travis Shaw becomes the chip to headline a deal that brings a controllable, impact starting pitcher back to the Brewers.
Ultimately, that’s what the goal seems to be no matter what players are connected to the Brewers: upgrade the starting rotation. That could come by a signing Jake Arrieta, or it could be through a more roundabout way. Inking either Lorenzo Cain or Mike Moustakas doesn’t figure to cost as much as Arrieta’s contract will. That would allow the Brewers to still absorb, say, the roughly $7 mil that Chris Archer will earn this season while leveraging their depth at another position (outfield or third base) without having to entrust one of those positions to a relatively unproven youngster.
Is it just me, or is it starting to feel that at this point it’s become more of matter of when we’ll see a big move from the Milwaukee Nine, not if?
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs