Could Mike Moustakas really return to the KC Royals?

A former KC Royals star might be a candidate to return to the club he started with.

Beginning to percolate here and there around the Internet, but struggling thus far to get up much steam, are suggestions that the KC Royals might consider bringing Mike Moustakas back. Such speculation is inevitable with fan favorites like Moustakas, and akin to isolated rumblings that the Royals might somehow pursue Eric Hosmer; after all, Moose and Hos were, and remain, wildly popular in Kansas City, and baseball fans naturally tend to dream about such improbable homecomings.

Nothing is impossible in the business of baseball, though, including any interest Moustakas’ present employers, the Cincinnati Reds, might have in trading him only a year into the four-year, $65 million pact he signed with them before last season, or that the Royals would seriously entertain a reunion.

Trading Moustakas doesn’t make practical sense for the Reds, who in 2020 received the first year’s benefit of the bargain they anticipated when they signed Moustakas to his mega-deal. He successfully made the transition from third base to second that the club required. He hit eight homers, which extrapolates to almost 22 over 162-games. He hit only .230 (a mark the real significance of which is hard to determine in a short season), but posted a career-high .331 OBP, the third straight season he’s finished with an OBP considerably higher than his 10-year .310.

No, saying goodbye to Moustakas so early makes sense only if the Reds are suddenly committed to a financial overhaul only a couple of months removed from their first trip to the postseason since 2013. Dumping Moustakas’ millions is the only reason to dump Moustakas.

Paying Moose the $48 million remaining on his contract would also be an odd thing for the KC Royals to do. Although he’s found a new position at second and plays a more than sufficient third, the Royals are, at least for now, well-positioned at both spots.

The Royals, however, are a team in obvious flux, one seriously engaged in a continuing offseason quest for immediate improvement facilitated by principal owner John Sherman’s willingness to spend more to get better. Sherman’s flexibility enabled General Manager Dayton Moore to add Carlos Santana, Mike Minor and Michael A. Taylor, and to re-sign Greg Holland. And Moore wouldn’t be talking openly about adding a lefthanded bat (which Moustakas just happens to have) unless his boss is prepared to open the KC pocketbook a bit more.

Moustakas, of course, was a key component of the club’s latest championship core before he left for free agency after the ill-fated campaign that was the 2017 season. But after the market failed him, Moustakas returned to the Royals in 2018 and, before the trade deadline deal everyone knew was coming finally came, gave them 20 home runs and 60 RBIs in 98 games. That effort followed his 38 homers (still a career high), 85 RBIs and .272 average of the season before.

His 35 homers with the Brewers in 2019 helped propel him to his current deal with the Reds.

To the KC Royals, Moustakas is a proven commodity, a player who can consistently hit for power in a ballpark not at all tailored for big hitters. He’ll never be a Gold Glover, but his defense is sufficient, his arm good. Moose plays hard, leads well, and wants to win.

And that he hits from the left side makes the prospect of a reunion more appealing.

There are, of course, obstacles to a Moustakas return, not the least of which is money. Moose’s current deal obligates the Reds—or any club that gets him in a trade—to pay him $14 million next season, $16 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023. That’s serious money to the typically frugal Royals, but the Reds might be convinced to share Moustakas’ salary if they’re determined to cut payroll. And, unlike many other offseasons, this may be a winter of content for KC—Sherman hasn’t shown signs of tightening Moore’s financial leash any time soon.

Another formidable obstacle is Bobby Witt Jr., the uber-talented natural shortstop who, due to the presence of Adalberto Mondesi, will most likely have to find another position when he’s ready for the majors, which is probably coming sooner rather than later. Conventional thought puts Witt at third, or perhaps at second if Lopez doesn’t solve the mysteries of big league pitching (or at short with Mondesi moving to second in the same situation); another strong possibility for Witt is the outfield.

For now, though, Moore seems willing to address the Witt issue when the time comes, and to move presumptive third baseman Hunter Dozier to the outfield, where he’s no stranger and could play one corner while Whit Merrifield plays the other, leaving Taylor in center and a host of other talent to compete for backup spots. Simply put, the Royals have a way to play Moustakas at third if they want him badly enough.

Personnel cost is the final impediment to bringing Moose back. Cincinnati isn’t going to sell him to anyone—the Reds might eat some of his salary, but they’ll demand (and get) players in return. The KC Royals are at a point where parting with any of their young talent would be excruciatingly painful, and Mondesi, Witt, Brady Singer, Asa Lacy, any of their other young starters, and Salvador Perez are, for now, certainly untouchable. Kansas City has outfielders and relief pitchers they could offer in trade; Danny Duffy’s name could come up, as could Jakob Junis’.

The possibilities are there, but not endless. Whether Moore and Sherman even want Moustakas is the question; maybe they do, maybe they don’t, and such a move wouldn’t be without considerable cost. But bringing Moustakas back could be an idea worthy of a phone call, especially if the Royals have reason to believe Cincinnati might be willing to talk. As they say, stranger things…

Will the KC Royals consider reuniting with Mike Moustakas? Only time, and maybe money, will tell.