Jesse Pantuosco

Spring Training Daily

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ST Daily: Return of the Moose

Friday, March 9, 2018


Nostalgia is in the air. NBC (hey, that’s us!) brought back Will and Grace. Roseanne is getting a second run on ABC. The Office might be coming back next year (but not with Michael Scott). The prodigal son Ichiro Suzuki returned to Seattle earlier this week. And now Mike Moustakas, who last year set the Royals’ single-season home run record with 38, is heading back to his old stomping grounds in KC. What a time to be alive.

 

Okay so Moustakas wasn’t gone THAT long. Roseanne was off the air for 21 years—Moustakas was on the open market for four months. But come on—after seeing Arie break Becca’s heart on The Bachelor this week, I think we all needed a happy ending. And that’s exactly what Moustakas gave us by reuniting with the team that drafted him second overall in 2007.

 

You’d think Moustakas would be thrilled to get his old job back, but I’m betting the moose man is feeling a bit conflicted right now. When the offseason began, the Royals gave Moustakas a one-year qualifying offer worth $17.4 million. The 29-year-old turned it down, expecting to land a more lucrative, multi-year deal in free agency. That never came to fruition as Moustakas returned to Kansas City on a bargain-bin, one-year, $6.5 million contract with a $5.5 base salary and another $2.2 million available in performance bonuses. The deal, which is pending a physical, includes a mutual second-year option worth $15 million (or a $1 million buyout), which would bring the contract’s total value to $22.7 million. You’ll notice Moustakas is making the same amount as Twins first baseman Logan Morrison, who also had to wait an eternity to sign his deal. As MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand put it, “38 home runs doesn’t get you what it used to.”

 

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Moustakas made a huge mistake by turning down the Royals’ qualifying offer. But who could have known that a free agent ice age awaited him on the other side? Moustakas was just following standard procedure, after all. Of the nine free agents who received qualifying offers this winter (including two other Royals), guess how many accepted? The answer is zero. And even though Moustakas lost over $10 million by rejecting his qualifying offer, at least he has a job. Four of the nine who received qualifying offers—Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland and Lance Lynn—remain unemployed.

 

There’s a reason for this—players who get qualifying offers are tied to draft-pick compensation, meaning whoever signs them would have to surrender one of their top picks. There were rumblings Moustakas would consider waiting until after the draft to sign so his suitors wouldn’t have to worry about losing a valuable pick, but luckily for Moose, it never came to that.

 

It feels like forever ago, but the Royals are still just three years removed from winning the World Series. KC won back-to-back American League pennants on the strength of a young core led by Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Moustakas. Of course, the good times were never meant to last. Only Perez and Gordon earned long-term deals and given the Royals’ small-market tendencies, it was hard to envision the band sticking together for much longer. Rather than blow it all up at last year’s trade deadline, the Royals took their chances by letting Cain, Escobar, Hosmer and Moustakas play out their contracts. And all things considered, the Royals actually did well to retain both Escobar (though he’s coming off a disastrous season) and Moustakas. Predictably, Cain (five-year pact with Milwaukee) and Hosmer (eight-year deal with San Diego) fell well out of the team’s price range.

 

Still, the decision to re-sign Moustakas, even at a cut rate, leaves Kansas City in an awkward position. Clearly the Royals’ title window has closed. Even with Hosmer and Cain on the team last year, the Royals still finished with a disappointing 80-82 record and never made a serious run at the AL Wild Card. By letting Moustakas walk, KC would have been entitled to a high draft pick, which is obviously a huge asset for a team in rebuilding mode. Now that’s off the table and the Royals, who have been very active in the second wave of free agency (Lucas Duda and Jon Jay have both signed in the last week), are probably headed for another 75-to-80-win season. Essentially, they’re not good enough to make the playoffs but not awful enough to truly reap the benefits of tanking, which, as we’ve learned from the Astros and Cubs, can actually be quite profitable. The other option would be to outspend teams in free agency a la the Yankees and Red Sox, but that’s not who the Royals are.

 

Right now, Kansas City is sort of stuck in the middle and that’s the worst place to be. Instead of giving reps to Moustakas, who will probably be gone in a year or two anyway (or sooner if the Royals move him at the trade deadline this summer), KC should be building for the future by finding at-bats for young players like Cheslor Cuthbert and Raul Mondesi. It’s an odd strategy, but maybe there’s a method to the Royals’ madness. From a fantasy perspective, Moustakas carries more risk than usual because he’ll be getting a late start, but if you already had your draft and nabbed him in one of the later rounds, you should get a pretty good return on investment. Apparently, power alone isn’t enough to land an eight-figure deal in today’s climate, but in fantasy, home runs still carry weight.

 

Speaking of retreads, the Rockies are close to bringing back Carlos Gonzalez on a one-year deal. CarGo is obviously a big name—he’s a three-time All-Star and a former batting champion. But he’s also 32 and is coming off one of his worst seasons. Still, Gonzalez proved his worth by hitting .314 in the second half last year including .377 in September and gives the Rockies a safety net in case Gerardo Parra (hand surgery) isn’t ready for Opening Day.

 

Coming off a rare playoff appearance in 2017, Colorado’s outfield is an embarrassment of riches with CarGo, Parra, Ian Desmond, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and last year’s NL batting champ, Charlie Blackmon. Desmond is slated to start in left with Blackmon in center, leaving Parra and Gonzalez to battle it out in right field. Parra and Gonzalez aren’t natural platoon partners—both are left-handed—but manager Bud Black found a way to make it work last year and can do it again.

 

According to reports, the Rockies also have interest in bringing back Mark Reynolds, who enjoyed a career resurgence last year with 30 homers and 97 RBI. Twenty-three-year-old first baseman Ryan McMahon is an exciting talent, but with youth comes growing pains. Reynolds is certainly no Mike Trout, but he’s a familiar face in Denver and would give the Rockies another option if McMahon struggles to acclimate, though obviously that hasn’t been a problem for him in spring training (.353 AVG in 34 Cactus League at-bats).

 

AL Quick Hits: Jose Bautista said he has no plans to retire despite drawing limited interest on the free agent market. The 37-year-old struggled to a .203 average with a career-high 170 strikeouts for Toronto in 2017 … Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had a monster day at the plate with four hits in Thursday’s Grapefruit League win over Baltimore. The Blue Jays third baseman is MLB.com’s No. 3 prospect … Andrelton Simmons went for an MRI after exiting Thursday’s Cactus League game with a strained left shoulder. The Angels are calling him day-to-day … Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto expects Ichiro Suzuki to play 4-6 days a week during Ben Gamel’s absence. Gamel could miss the first two months of the season with a strained oblique … Jacoby Ellsbury has been sidelined with a right oblique injury but could resume running on Saturday. With Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks ahead of him on the Yankees’ outfield depth chart, Ellsbury is well off the fantasy radar … Mark Trumbo is expected to miss 3-7 days with a sore right quad. The Orioles slugger led the AL with 47 round-trippers in 2016, but slumped to just 23 homers last season … J.D. Martinez came through with three hits Thursday as Boston and Tampa Bay played to a 6-6 tie in Fort Myers. It was only Martinez’s second game with the Red Sox after signing a five-year, $110 million contract last week.

 

NL Quick Hits: The Pirates have announced Ivan Nova as their Opening Day starter. The right-hander got off to a good start last year but fell apart with a 5.83 ERA in the second half … Zack Greinke struggled with his velocity in an intra-squad start on Thursday, topping out at 87 mph with his fastball mostly sitting between 84-86 mph. That’s way down from the 91 mph he averaged last season … Amed Rosario is slated to DH Friday against Detroit and will move to shortstop Saturday against the Yankees. The 22-year-old sustained knee and groin injuries last week but an MRI cleared him of any structural damage … Jeurys Familia is dealing with a “dead arm,” which would explain why he allowed five runs in only 1 1/3 innings Thursday in the Mets’ Grapefruit League loss to Washington. The closer could be shut down for a few days but the injury isn’t thought to be serious … Javier Baez exited Thursday’s Cactus League game with left hamstring tightness after pulling up at second base but said it was just a cramp caused by not drinking enough water. Baez has a scheduled off day on Friday but said he’ll be 100 percent for Saturday’s game against the White Sox … Billy Hamilton returned to game action Thursday after missing time with a sprained left index finger. He went 0-for-2 in a loss to the Rockies … Ryan Schimpf is having a rough go of it. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his Braves debut Thursday against Houston. Including his time with the Rays earlier this spring, the 29-year-old is hitless with 11 punch-outs in 17 Cactus League at-bats … According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Padres have been talking “internally” about signing Jake Arrieta. The former Cy Young winner has also drawn interest from the Phillies and Nationals.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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