Rumors

The Phillies signing Mike Moustakas appears to have become less likely



Citizens Bank Park doesn’t appear likely to be the home of Mike Moustakas in 2019. (Ian D’Andrea)

Dating back to last July, the Philadelphia Phillies have been connected the third baseman Mike Moustakas. But general manager Matt Klentak didn’t acquire the two-time All-Star before the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline, and it appears that despite some level of interest, the Phillies may again pass on the 30-year-old.

This past Friday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Moustakas returning to the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that acquired him last July, “seems inevitable.” A.J. Cassavell of MLB.com says that the San Diego Padres remain a suitor for Moustakas as well. The Phillies, meanwhile, “seem unlikely” to sign Moustakas, per MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki, even if Manny Machado ultimately signs elsewhere.

If the Phillies lure Machado, a four-time All-Star, he’ll be the Phillies starting third baseman presumably. That would round out a starting infield that would have Rhys Hoskins at first base, Cesar Hernandez at second base and Jean Segura at shortstop. Scott Kingery, a natural second baseman that primarily played shortstop in his rookie season of 2018, would be a super-utility player.

While the Phillies welcomed Machado and his wife, Yainee, to Citizens Bank Park on Dec. 20, he also visited the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. The Padres also have some level of interest in Machado. Machado could choose to sign with another team, or the Phillies could elect to sign Bryce Harper before Machado makes a free-agent decision.

Without Machado, Maikel Franco, still just 26, could be the Opening Day starting third baseman. That would have been seen as a minor shock at the outset of the offseason, with Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reporting in November that Franco was “pretty much a sure bet” to be dealt at some point this offseason. But the Phillies have acquired sure things at other positions; J.T. Realmuto at catcher, Andrew McCutchen in left field and Segura at shortstop. That perhaps gives them more of a chance to experiment with Franco, who has high offensive upside but remains less of a sure thing.

Last July, Franco carried what at the time was an upstart Phillies team, hitting .330 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to sustain offensive production that’s more than replacement level for a full season yet. But again, he’s still only 26. The trained eye noticed some incremental improvements he made at the plate in 2018, such as a move away from an early-career flaw of trying to pull everything. But despite a relative bounce-back in 2018 following a disappointing 2017 campaign, Franco also saw an increase in his ground ball percentage and a decrease in his hard-contact percentage in 2018, two trends that aren’t encouraging for a power hitter.

Fortunately for the Phillies, they possess someone in Kingery that they remain high on, despite -19.3 offensive WAR in his rookie season, one of the 10 worst marks among all qualified hitters. That, though, followed a 2017 season where Kingery hit .304 with 26 home runs and 65 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A. There, of course, is a difference between the upper levels of the minor leagues and the major leagues. There’s a reason that Hernandez is likely to still get a bulk of the starts at second base. There’s also a reason that the Phillies bought out all of Kingery’s arbitration years before he ever played a game at the major league level. Manager Gabe Kapler predicted last month that Kingery, 24, will be the Phillies most improved player in 2019. Depending upon how things shake out, we could see much of that improvement come at the hot corner.

Until Moustakas signs elsewhere, the door on him ending up in red pinstripes probably isn’t closed. If the Phillies sign Machado, it will be, and Franco will likely be traded. But even if Machado doesn’t ultimately end up with the Phillies, you can start to see how the Phillies may feel more comfortable going with younger, cheaper options at third base in Franco and Kingery, as opposed to signing Moustakas to what will likely be a multi-year deal.

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