The Cincinnati Reds are making moves, and big ones at that. Jon Heyman of MLB Network was the first to report that the Reds have agreed to a deal with infielder Mike Moustakas. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the deal is a 4-year deal for $64M the now 31-year-old. That is easily the largest free agent contract ever handed out in free agency by the Reds, which was previously held by Francisco Cordero. Among the position player contracts it dwarfs the previous high, which went to Ryan Ludwick and was for all of $17M.
For the most part of his career, Mike Moustakas has played third base. In 2019 he slid over to second base 47 times for the Milwaukee Brewers. The assumption here is that he will take over at second base for the Reds. Cincinnati reportedly has a pretty good third baseman on the team already. Moustakas also has very limited time at first base – playing there briefly with Kansas City in 2018.
At the plate is where you’re going to reap the benefits of this deal. For his career, Moustakas is just a 101 OPS+ hitter – basically league average. But that is due to his big struggles in the first four seasons of his career. From 2011-2014 he hit just .236/.290/.379 with the Royals. In the five seasons since then he’s hit .264/.325/.491 and made three all-star teams. Last season with the Brewers he hit 30 doubles, a triple, and 35 home runs while posting an .845 OPS (114 OPS+).
Not everything is perfect and rosy with Mike Moustakas. He’s not exactly a guy who gets on base a lot. Last season he posted an on-base percentage over .320 for only the second time in his career when he walked 53 times and posted a .329 mark. That was a career high in walks for him. And while you can point to his .250 BABIP in 2019 as a reason to think he could improve, hold that thought because for his career, he’s always been a guy with a very low BABIP. Since 2013 he’s failed to post a BABIP over .263.
What Mike Moustakas does bring to the table is contact and power. He’s hit 38, 28, and 35 home runs in the last three seasons. The year before that he missed nearly the entire year. Along with that power comes a 16.2% strikeout rate. That’s much better than the league average mark. Among the Reds with at least 200 plate appearances last year (there were 13 of them), only Jose Iglesias, Jose Peraza, and Jesse Winker had better contact rates. Joey Votto was the next closest, and he struck out 20.2% of the time. Moustakas should improve the rate of contact on the team on an every day basis to go along with adding another legitimate power threat.
The move is certainly nothing less than the Reds trying to improve their offense, which was a real hurdle for them last season. Between the health of players, and under-performance of others, the team struggled to consistently put runs on the board. It’s tough to say what this will do for the defense, both in the short and long term. Mike Moustakas simply doesn’t have enough time at second base for the metrics to mean much. This is where your scouts are important. The Reds clearly feel the defense is good enough to make this work. With more strikeouts than ever, and more shifting than ever, raw defensive ability is less important than ever.
But this move doesn’t just change the infield. This move probably takes the Reds out of the market for an every day center fielder, too. Nick Senzel’s ability to play second base left open the option for the team to pursue another center fielder if the opportunity were there. With the signing of Moustakas, it seems that Cincinnati will stick with Senzel in center.
The Marcels projection system is the only one out right now that I’m aware of. Here’s the projection for Mike Moustakas:
That would help the offense quite a bit. And it’s not likely that this will be the last move made by the Reds, either. They’ve been rumored to be looking all over the place – both for more offense and for more pitching. And they’ve got money to spend, and a farm system to trade from if needed.
Mike Moustakas Fangraph page link
Mike Moustakas Baseball Reference page link
Mike Moustakas Baseball Savant page link
Photo of Mike Moustakas by Ian D’Andrea. Photo has been modified slightly to fit the ratio of the site. License can be found here.