The Braves have been the most active team early in the free agency, signing several of their own guys and also bringing in the likes of Will Smith and Travis d’Arnaud. But they still have two gaping holes to fill. The first of which is at third base.
The plan since the end of the season has been to pursue Josh Donaldson. There is mutual interest in a return, but at the end of the day, money rules all, and the star third baseman may be in for a much larger payday than initially anticipated.
Earlier today, Mike Moustakas – a former Brewer – inked a lucrative multi-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds that should slow down the rest of the third-base market. The contract is for four years and worth $64 million – an AAV of $16 million. That’s way over the projected contract Moose was expected to get. He had to settle for one-year deals in back-to-back offseasons, and even though he’s coming off a career year, few thought he would get four years or $16 million annually. MLB Trade rumors, who is generally pretty accurate when predicting offseason contracts, projected he would receive a two-year deal worth $20 million. They also guessed he would land with the Braves.
By all accounts, this is a massive overpay by the Reds, who are desperate to become relevant again. But it is bad for the Braves for multiple reasons.
Primarily, this should drive up the price tag for Josh Donaldson. He was always going to command much more in the AAV department than Moustakas, probably around $25 million a year, but this should also add pressure for teams to add another year or two to the deal. If there were questions about whether or not Donaldson would receive three years, those are now gone. He will get at least three, and it may take a team offering a fourth to land him. That’s not something the Braves have shown a willingness to do, which makes it much more challenging to imagine him in a Braves uniform to begin 2020.
On top of that, the Reds just stole what was the best backup plan on the market if Josh Donaldson signs elsewhere. Now, the Braves would have never doled out $64 million for Moustakas, but he was on Anthopoulos’ radar, which makes sense considering how top-heavy the market for third baseman is. Atlanta isn’t going to land Rendon, and if they can’t bring back Donaldson, it will be up to Anthopoulos to get creative.
All hope is not lost, however. Luckily, Anthopoulos is one of the best at coming up with different ways to improve the team. Johan Camargo and Austin Riley are internal options to fill the potential hole at third base. But if the Braves are trying to avoid a substantial drop off at the position, they will likely have to explore the trade market. We’ve talked about several potential options this offseason already. Kris Bryant could be dangled in front of clubs, as the Cubs attempt to rebuild. Justin Turner might also be on the market if the Dodgers land Rendon. Or perhaps Atlanta takes a risk on a guy like Miguel Andujar, who fits the window of the Braves and is under team control for multiple seasons.
Plenty of options remain for Alex Anthopoulos, but there is no question this Moustakas deal makes things much more complicated when talking about the future at third base in Atlanta.