Mike Moustakas was one of the players most affected by the collusion-that-the-league-isn’t-calling-collusion last offseason. He hit .272 with a career-high .835 OPS in 2017 and set the Royals’ franchise record for home runs (at only 38, but that’s the franchise’s fault not his — he can have his history) and seemed poised for a multi-year deal in the offseason. Whether from the Angels (who went with Zack Cozart) or the Yankees (who have done just fine with Miguel Andújar), or whoever, Moustakas should have gotten paid.
Maybe not a break the bank contract, but something for his efforts as he entered his age 30 season. Yet a return to the Royals on a one-year, $6.5 million deal was the option he ended up with after initially turning down their qualifying offer (there were rumors of deals turned down and deals scoffed at but we can’t really know), with the hopes he’d have another great year and be able to cash in after this season if the third base market was more geared to the supplier rather than the demander. Which doesn’t look likely, but we haven’t gotten there yet.
Our friends at Royals Review also pegged that the Royals could be looking at the deal as premeditated trade bait all the way back in March. Which is, of course, exactly what happened. Moose hit .249/.309/.468 with 20 home runs in the first 98 games of the season with the Royals and then got traded to the Brewers at the deadline for outfielder Brett Phillips and right hander Jorge Lopez.
So he went to Milwaukee. While “flourished” might be too colorful a term to describe a sample size of less than 60 games, Moustakas hit .256/.326/.441 with a 104 OPS+ and eight home runs in Wisconsin to end his season, with 0.4 bWAR in that time as well. Heading into the playoffs, he looked like another threat in the lineup against whoever the Brewers came up against but that’s about it.
So far, through an NLDS sweep of the Rockies, Moustakas has been much more than that. Yes he hit the walk off single to right field that scored Christian Yelich to win Game 1 of the NLDS for Milwaukee which was perfect timing from bat that Milwaukee was hoping for when they made the trade.
But Moose has also just been popping up kind of ... everywhere. In a postseason where he shares a roster spot with people like Christian Yelich (future NL MVP), Jhoulys Chacin (who let up only three hits and no runs in his five innings pitched in the NLDS), Jesús Aguilar (35 dingers this year), and others like Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun, he’s been making plays and showing up exactly when the team needs him.
That’s something you can’t guarantee when you make a deadline move. The bat might be there, sure. You know he’s solid on defense. But Moustakas is contributing in the little ways that push a team from just making a playoff appearance to being a real contender and possibly winning a World Series.
There was the right field single that scored Yelich in Game 2 to put Milwaukee up 2-0, almost exactly matching his Game 1 heroics in a less stressful spot but an important one nonetheless. The eighth inning hit started a rally that would seal the game for Colorado and taking some stress off the bullpen in the ninth.
There was a jumping catch at third base during the first game in Milwaukee, stopping a line drive off Nolan Arenado’s bat that would have been a sure double in the 10th inning of a tie game. Or the intentional walk in the eighth inning of that same game that proved what the Rockies thought of his possible impact even so early in the series. Or another intentional walk, later in the series in Game 3, with 38-year old Rockies-killer Erik Kratz up next. Both would work out in Colorado’s favor but it’s the impression that counts.
He knows what he contributes too, telling Jon Heyman of his playoffs performance,
“I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted. Then the postseason started, and well, it’s a lot of fun. You get into those pressure situations, and you see guys trying to do too much. All of us have been there and felt that. But you need to stay in the moment. You need to enjoy it. I love it. I love it.”
It’s those kinds of little moments, whether intimidating an opponent or surprising people with his agility exactly when necessary or simply being a reliable slot in the lineup that the team doesn’t have to worry about working in their favor game in and game out. Yelich will, deservedly, get much of the glory for making a huge leap in his first season in Milwaukee and leading the team to a ring if they win it all.
Moustakas though, he’s the player that will get a fraction of the credit but is the type of piece every championship team needs. That other players will talk about when they win — of the little moments he contributed or the things he did that no one else would have had the wherewithal to do in the moment. The people who can “stay in the moment” as Moose himself said.
He has a $15 million mutual option on this contract with a $1 million buyout. While he’ll probably be testing the waters at least behind the scenes and there are positional considerations to be made all over the place in Milwaukee, if once again the market declines to cough up a payday for him another year with the Brewers might be the right fit for both sides.
Especially if his contributions at the hot corner continue like they have in the postseason and he keeps hearing chants of Moooooooose from the Miller Field crowd.