It may be a bit early to start previewing free agency, but with the Braves lackluster play as of late, it is hard not to start focusing on next season. Matt Adams is a very likely trade candidate, and Matt Kemp’s absence truly shows had badly the Braves need protection in the lineup behind Freddie Freeman. Realistically the Braves need another impact bat to add to the equation if they want to start competing again anytime soon.
Ever since Chipper Jones retired at the end of the 2012 season, third base has been a revolving door for the Braves. It all started with the regrettable extension Frank Wren gave Chris Johnson after the 2013 season. In 2015, the Braves traded Johnson midseason and fans got to watch Juan Uribe for a month and a 30-year old Adonis Garcia emerge as a rookie. The Braves tried to lock down the hot corner at an affordable rate when trading for Hector Olivera at the trade deadline. Braves fans know how this trade resulted and it is truly Coppy’s sole blemish on his resume thus far.
Garcia served as the primary third baseman for the majority of the 2016 season, but has missed most of this year’s campaign due to injury. The hot corner situation has been an absolute rollercoaster in 2017. It even got to the point where Freddie Freeman was playing the hot corner against righties so the Braves could get Matt Adams’ bat in the lineup. While Freddie actually played a decent third base, this was clearly a temporary fix. However, Johan Camargo broke onto the scene, and while he started all over the diamond, he appeared most at third. This made the team comfortable with trading away offseason acquisition Sean Rodriguez after just a handful of contests upon returning from injuries sustained in a terrible offseason car crash. The team promoted top second base prospect Ozzie Albies, shifting Brandon Phillips to third base and Camargo to shortstop. Unfortunately, Camargo went down with injury shortly after, and is still sidelined.
While the Braves have been able to extract production out of their makeshift third base situation, the reality is that Brandon Phillips is not a third baseman, nor a long term solution for the team. His contract is up at the end of the season.
Advanced statistics show that Johan Camargo is also due for some regression. This is not to call Camargo a fluke, but he profiles as a potential super utility guy that could really help the team as it grows. If he sticks as a starter, he looks more natural at shortstop and his contact bat profiles better as a middle infielder.
The Braves have lacked stability at third for way too long. This offseason could be when the team pulls the trigger on a free agent bat. If this is the case, it should be Mike Moustakas. The Royals third baseman is on the verge of beating the franchise’s single season home run record. He has had a terrific breakout season, and to date is hitting .282 with 35 homers and 76 RBI. What is really crazy about the type of production he has put up this year, however, is how well he has hit despite encountering some bad luck this season at the plate. This season Moustakas has only hit .241 on balls hit into play, which makes ranks him 141st out of 157 batters with enough at bats to qualify. This sees to suggest that we could see him hit more a much higher average in the future to go along with his increase in power.
Moustakas would offer the perfect protection in the middle of the lineup. Imagine this lineup next season:
Assuming the Braves get production out of their young players in the lineup, this could be a fierce lineup that would feature two additional impact bats. This move also allows the team to comfortably move Matt Adams. Adonis Garcia is under team control until 2022 and can back up left and third base, with Johan Camargo serving as a super utility player.
While the Braves do have a handful of third base prospects, Rio Ruiz does not appear to be a franchise guy, and Austin Riley could easily transition to a corner outfielder and be groomed to become Matt Kemp’s replacement at the end of his contract.
Of course, there is an argument not to sign Moustakas. The Royals will likely extend him a qualifying offer, which would result in the Braves losing a high draft pick if they opt to sign him. If the team does not feel as if it is time to spend and wants to wait for its window to further near, they could decide to make a run at Manny Machado instead in 2019 and keep stocking the farm.
So what would be a fair contract for Moustakas? He should receive a deal in the neighborhood of the 4-year/$64 million deal Justin Turner got from the Dodgers this offseason. That equates out to $16 million annually. With all the schematic moves Coppy has made to save money in past weeks, it makes one wonder whether he intends to start spending this offseason. This would be a reasonable rate for a franchise third baseman who could bring so much to the lineup.
Moustakas is worth a hard look for Atlanta.