- Gabriel Burns
Free-agent third baseman Mike Moustakas already has been linked to the Braves. But the team is unlikely to dive into what’s expected to be a steep bidding war for the two-time All-Star.
The Braves need help at third base and in the power department. Moustakas provides that, but at a potentially prohibitive cost; both financially and to the Braves’ rebuild.
Vegas odds makers think the Braves will at least be in the mix for the free agent’s services, giving the Braves the third-best odds at adding the 2015 world champion.
Sports Betting Dime gives the Braves 6-1 odds at landing Moustakas, behind the Angels (2-1) and Mets (4-1). The Royals sit behind the Braves at 10-1.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted Moustakas will land with the Braves on a five-year, $85 million deal. That would be the largest contract in team history, topping the disastrous five-year, $75.25 million given to B.J. Upton in 2012.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported the Braves won’t enter upper-tier bidding wars, which is where Moustakas will qualify. As far as Vegas is concerned, the possibility of Royals GM Dayton Moore joining the team’s front office may have played a role in the Braves’ favorable odds.
Moustakas picked the perfect time to have a career year. He slashed .272/.314/.521 with 38 homers and 85 RBIs. His 2.2 WAR was the third-best of his career.
On paper, the marriage makes sense. Moustakas checks all the boxes: addresses third-base need, adds solid defense and much-needed power and a positive clubhouse reputation. Plus, spending money usually appeases fan bases starved for wins.
Adding Moustakas and top outfield prospect Ronald Acuna to the lineup, in addition to shifting Johan Camargo to a permanent utility role, would undoubtedly make for the most competent group the Braves have had since the 2013 playoff team.
But it also would block third-base prospect Austin Riley, who has plenty of power in his own right and should break into the majors next season. If the Braves pay Moustakas, that displaces Riley and would go against the philosophy they’ve preached since beginning the rebuild.
Given Moustakas’ overall body of work, it’d be a questionable choice. The Braves’ payroll doesn’t permit for many overpayments or mistakes. Los Angeles, New York and the like can spend freely without being haunted by miscues. The Braves must be more cautious, especially at such a fragile point. Moustakas, while solid, isn’t typically a player for which a mid-market team would break the bank.
Free agency is for adding players who complement your core group, in most cases. The Braves have invested the future of their franchise in the minor-league talent accumulated. They’ll identify what they have before opening the checkbook.
Through whatever smoke there may be, the Braves remain an unlikely destination. The team isn’t in love with Moustakas, nor does it want to make a long-term commitment that would block one of its better prospects.
The world champion Houston Astros underwent a similar rebuild, and they didn’t cut any corners. The Braves will see theirs through the same way.