In 2018, Mike Moustakas jumped from small market rebuild to small market upswing. In 2019, he re-signed with the Brewers on a prove-it deal—and seems to be proving all he needs to, to cement his future bids in Cream City.
It’s hard to argue that Milwaukee isn’t a great place for hitters. There may be little glitz and glam but there’s also less pressure, yet plenty of fanfare. The outfield walls are as friendly as those behind them. The weather is a controllable factor.
Due to Milwaukee’s size and corellating fiscal restrictions—making contractual discernment and meticulous talent evaluation the only way to survive, let alone win—few elite players choose to stay. But with over $30 million theoretically off the books in 2020 and an obvious window of contention, the team has a unique opportunity to capitalize on one of the best free agent fits in years.
For legacy fans, the Mike Moustakas narrative should sound familiar. Forty-six years ago, just three years after becoming an official (and long-awaited) return franchise in Milwaukee, the team signed a high-ceiling third baseman Don Money. Over the following six seasons, Money tallied four All-Star campaigns and quickly became a fan favorite; there’s a reason his name adorns a section of Miller Park’s parking lot. And yet statistically, he’s nowhere near what the former Royal is able to bring to the table.
Since hitting his stride four full seasons into his career, Moustakas has done everything possible to justify being the second overall pick in 2007. In 2015, he was an All-Star and a World Series champion. In 2016, he tore his ACL yet returned to All-Star status and earned the AL’s 2017 Comeback Player of the Year in the process. In 2018, he helped the Brewers come within a game of the World Series. And now he’s primed to accelerate.
Since joining the Brewers in 2018’s trade season, much like Money in ’73-’74, he’s gained enough steam to eclipse every year of his previous nine seasons in Major League Baseball. While his numbers last season may not have been eye-popping, they were certainly indicative of a player extending, if not improving upon his prime (.256/.326/.441, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 20 R in 54 G).
In 2019, at 30 years old, he’s proving he may have an extra gear few could predict. In just 61 games this season, he’s not only keeping pace with his 2015 All-Star season (.284/.348/.470) but improving on it in the power department by adding over 125 points to his slugging percentage (.278/.346/.598).
Sustaining that performance for a full season may be a stretch, but there’s little reason to believe he will slow down any time soon, if Wednesday night’s 14th-inning game-winning no-doubter in Houston is any indication. And if he does happen to maintain that drive with any consistency, he’s pacing to hit over 50 home runs, drive in over 110 and score the same himself. Even if he regresses to career mean for the remainder of the season, his baseline is still 30, 80, and 70 respectively—and that severe of regression is highly unlikely.
Outside of attempting to write it all off as a fluke, there’s no denying that Moustakas would provide a significant mid-term fit for a team with infield uncertainty in the coming years—the same kind of stability Money promised to the mid-70s teams. Even though Yelich and Cain are locked in for the next three seasons and Braun at least another year, there is plenty of outfield talent in the minors to keep options in-house.
The infield, on the other hand, is a different story. Outside of Shaw, who will be entering his second year of arbitration next year (and still frequently struggles against lefties) and Orlando Arcia‘s first, there are few guarantees left.
Jesus Aguilar has been an offensive liability despite improving peripherals, and even though Eric Thames has at least provided a semi-reliable platoon mate, it’s hard for the team to lean on one All-Star year with a nearly half-season slump and no options left on the table. Thames himself is in the final year of his contract barring a $7M club option and may not have done enough to establish any kind of security.
Of course, two of the team’s top-five prospects are also waiting in the wings. Keston Hiura looked ready for the big league keystone when given his first opportunity earlier this season. Fellow middle infielder Mauricio Dubon has rebounded from surgery nicely and has continued mashing (.290/.329/.436, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 31 R in 61 G) right where he left off in Triple-A before injury.
Even if they both surface this year and prove themselves worthy, that still leaves questions at both, or at the very least one of the corners in the near future (barring a significant positional shift). With the window opened wide in 2018, the team can’t afford to roll out nearly an entire infield of players with less than three years of experience.
Outside of a profile lending itself well to the confines of Miller Park and the need for his experience and consistency, Moustakas has the type of personality that fits in well in the clubhouse. He’s surrounded by former teammates, friends and those who share the same social circles. He’s modest, laid back, yet excitable and just happens to have a name that serves a perfect transition for fans from “Luuuuuuuc!” to “Mooooooooose!”
Perhaps best of all for the front office, he’s proved to be nothing short of exceptional value. For just $7M in 2019, the Brewers’ ostensible second baseman is leading all of baseball at the position in home runs (21), RBI (45), runs (45) and slugging (.598) while also being top five in hits, doubles, average and on-base percentage—making him one of the top-30 most valuable players by salary in 2019.
While his current deal is team-friendly to say the least and his market value via Spotrac somewhere around $10.5M, it’s safe to say his presence on and off the field is worth well above both. Should the Brewers want to secure his services post-2019, especially given the exceptional fit, the state of the market, and what should be considered his reasonable cost, a 3-year offer around $36M would be mutually beneficial.
Even though there are things to be excited about in Milwaukee, Moustakas notwithstanding, both fans and the front office should be pushing to make the move. Given the amount of uncertainty that exists for a team that looks ready to change franchise history sooner than later, there are few other moves anywhere close to as exciting or logical as bringing such an endearing and talented player back to Milwaukee in the near future.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and senior writer for Bronx to Bushville.