While most of the chatter heading into this offseason revolves around the re-signing of Ervin Santana and the question of what to do about right field or second base…I think there is a group of fans (myself included) that are almost more curious about what the Royals have planned for third base in 2014.
Yes, we do have hotshot prospect Mike Moustakas in place. But…he’s not a prospect anymore, and he isn’t much of a hotshot either, it appears. Three seasons into his big league career, Moustakas has totaled nearly 1,500 plate appearances (1,493) in 374 games. His career totals at this point are anything but impressive for a corner infielder, with a .244 AVG, .296 OBP, and .385 SLG (that’s a career .681 OPS). The light hitting Alcides Escobar, known not for his on base or slugging ability, but for his slick fielding , has a career .637 OPS. That places Moustakas in the realm of a light hitting middle infielder. Not good.
Looking at third basemen from the 2013 season, according to Fangraphs, Moose ranks 15 of 21 in third base WAR (comparing all major league qualifying third basemen) with a 1.1 WAR, with most of his value coming in the field. Who was worse than Moose? Matt Dominguez (barely), Alberto Callaspo, Mark Reynolds, Trevor Plouffe, David Freese, and the 74-year-old Michael Young all rated worse than Moustakas.
Moustakas’ offensive value was a -16.6 for 2013. That is his combined batting and base running value above or below average. Obviously, he was very much below average, and has been since coming to the major leagues (-8.8 in 2011 and another -8.8 in 2012). His glove has been his one redeeming quality with a UZR of 15.8 in 2012 and 7.6 in 2013. That’s fine…but in the end, the defense isn’t offsetting his lack of offense enough to make him a valuable third baseman. 2012 wasn’t so bad (3.1 fWAR) mostly due to his 20 home runs, but his slash line was still a pitiful .242/.296/.412.
Looking a little deeper, at team stats per position for 2013, the Royals ranked 20th in the majors at third base with a total fWAR of 0.9 (this of course includes ALL third base play for the team). They ranked 21st at second base with a 1.2 fWAR and ranked 8th in right field with a 4.9 fWAR. So where is the real problem here? Would it be nice to have an everyday right fielder? Sure…but if a combination of Justin Maxwell and David Lough can give us top 10 production at that position, isn’t the more glaring hole at third base??
I guess the answer to that last question depends on what you think Moustakas will do moving forward. Fangraphs has their first set of projections already available courtesy of steamerprojections.com. Moustakas is projected to have his best slash line yet, although one that is still not overly impressive. Moose is projected at .256/.311/.423, with 17 home runs and 30 doubles. His offensive value is placed at -1.7 (a career high), defense at 8.2, and fWAR at a 2.6. If every other third baseman in the major leagues has roughly the same output as in 2013, this would jump Moose past the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Martin Prado, placing him just behind Nolan Arenado (who posted a 2.7 fWAR for the Colorado Rockies this year).
Is that enough? If we focus on upgrading other areas, would that slight improvement be enough of a boost to an offense that needs to score more runs in 2014? If the Royals can hang on to Santana (or at least find a suitable replacement) and upgrade at second base and/or right field, can the team get by with a third baseman whose only value (so far) seems to be with his glove? Or is the real solution sticking with our right field platoon, Emilio Bonifacio at second base, and finding a suitable third baseman?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate completely giving up on Mike Moustakas any more than I am sold on Bonifacio or Maxwell/Lough. But Moose’s struggles are just as concerning to me as the question marks at second base and right field. Yes, Moose is still young, and it wasn’t all that long ago he was a top-notch prospect, but Dayton Moore better at least have a viable second option for third base for 2014 if this team is serious about taking that next step.