When Josh Donaldson signed with the Braves yesterday, my immediate reaction contained the tiniest twinge of jealously. A $23 million AAV may not be ideal for luxury tax observers, but in terms of an overall commitment in this market, it’s basically nothing: one year and $23 million. If he busts, it’s over after next year. Very little harm, very little foul. And because I’m no longer convinced the Cubs’ financial motivations are driven solely by their luxury tax concerns, I could see this having been the sort of deal they could’ve tried to land, themselves. Then again, maybe they did try.
But where the jealously faded, a smile grew. I realized that if Donaldson was in Atlanta, that would necessarily mean he is *not* in St. Louis or Milwaukee, where he could’ve made an affordable impact on the NL Central in 2019. Both teams could stand to add an impact bat in the infield, and Donaldson checks a lot of boxes. He’ll still be in the National League next season, but with the Braves, he’ll be an arms length away.
To the extent the Cardinals and/or Brewers were in on Donaldson, they’ll have to move on to another target. Perhaps an unsurprising one:
#STLCards have Mike Moustakas on radar. The difference this year: no draft choice attachment. Rival Brewers, Moose’s most recent team, among others with possible interest.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 27, 2018
According to Jon Heyman, Mike Moustakas has popped up on both the Cardinals and Brewers’ radar this winter, as both teams look to add a bat to their lineup, preferably in the infield. And frankly, this interest is not much of a surprise.
When Moustakas was a free agent last winter, before he was forced to settle for a one-year extension with the Royals, the Cardinals showed some interest in signing the third baseman. Heyman suggests that his attachment to draft pick compensation as a qualified free agent – a burden he no longer carries – is marking the difference in the strength of their pursuit (of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that he had another solid-ish season in 2018). The Brewers, meanwhile, didn’t publicly pursue Moustakas in the offseason, but did trade for him at the mid-way point. He was an above-average hitter for them and helped steward that team to an NL Central vict… (lol I’m kidding, it was exclusively Christian Yelich’s 50% HR/FB ratio in the second half).
Now, I will say upfront that both teams’ interest in Moustakas is likely quite genuine, but neither team is without potentail hidden motivations. The Cardinals, for example, might have wanted this news out there to remind the Diamondbacks that they have alternatives to a trade for Paul Goldschmidt (remember those rumors?). Goldschmidt may be a first baseman like the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter, but Carpenter can (and would) also play third in that scenario. The Brewers, meanwhile, probably wouldn’t mind driving the price up on the Cardinals, especially if they see the NL Central as theirs to reclaim in 2019. Feigning interest in a shared target might only result in a few extra million spent here or there, but why not try? You’ve got nothing to lose, and he’s an exiting free agent of your own. No one would call the interest totally implausible.
Landing on a rooting interest in this kind of rumor is difficult, because on the one hand, if the Cardinals acquired Moustakas, they wouldn’t be involved with the far more talented Paul Goldschmidt. However, if Moustakas signs elsewhere – with Donaldson off the board, as well – the Diamondbacks could really put the screws to St. Louis, who might be pressured to give up more than they should (or perhaps pivot to a WAY more expensive option like Manny Machado). And although Goldy is one of the best players in baseball, I’d still take the Cubs over the Cardinals in 2019.
For now, I’m just happy to see the Cardinals and Brewers bidding each other up, because the former is probably getting desperate after several consecutive misses at the postseason (i.e. they might do something reckless) and the latter does not have the financial resources of a larger market club. If either of them overextends themselves, it could be good for the Cubs in the long run, and this little competition over available third baseman is just the start.
Oh, also, it’s not like Moustakas, 30, is a sure-fire impact player at this point. He was almost perfectly average at the plate and in the field last year, slightly better at the plate in 2017, and injured in 2016.
I think these two teams should fight for the right to give him a five-year deal.