The Phillies’ contingency plan in a post-Machado world has a name, and it is four syllables long.
Mike Moustakas is a thirty-year-old third baseman one year removed from an all-star season in which he generated the ninth most WAR on his own team. Feeling fancy this summer, the Brewers included Moustakas in their burst of acquisitions to attempt to stave off a second-half meltdown.
Moustakas inherited third base in Milwaukee, even though he hadn’t been slashing very sexily: .249/.309/.468, with 20 HR and 30 BB in 98 games with Kansas City in 2018. But Milwaukee was vibing with everybody at that point and made the move. What did they—and would the Phillies—get by acquiring the 30-year-old? Let’s ask Max Rieper from Royals Review, who has been monitoring Moose’s activities in KC for the last seven seasons.
“Moose is a tremendous defender with good power,” Rieper says. “He is pretty pull-happy - he spent one year trying to go the other way to beat the shift and was successful doing so, but he seems to be back to pulling the ball. His OBA hasn’t been great, as he’s become a very free swinger, but he doesn’t whiff a ton. He’s a great clubhouse guy - he is credited with firing up the team when they were down in Game 3 of the 2015 ALDS against Houston just before they made their comeback. He’s a fun guy to root for.”
The other thing about Moustakas is that last year’s thumb-twiddling free agent market caused him to sign a one-year deal, making him a free agent third baseman right now, and one who is still available. The Phillies have been linked to Moose as a backup plan in case Machado lands somewhere else.
As you may recall, the Phillies do currently have a third baseman. His name is Maikel Franco and he is a 26-year-old who was once touted to be the Phillies’ centerpiece of the future, and who has now played three full seasons at the position and has yet to become whatever we thought the future was going to look like. However, in 2018, he took one of those productive patches that have gotten us so excited about him in the past and stretched it into large chunks of a season, instead of just a “fun weekend in New York.”
- Moustakas: .251/.315/.459, 28 HR, 62 XBH, 49 BB, 2.5 WAR in 152 G
- Franco: .270/.314/.467, 22 HR, 40 XBH, 29 BB, 0.2 WAR in 131 G
At first look I, too, shrugged and kept eating a chicken wing. So if the Phillies don’t land Machado, but they still want to do something, they would just blindly grab at the next third baseman in line. Doesn’t seem prudent, given what they get from Franco, and that perhaos Franco is finally trending up—his month of July this year was monstrous: .330 BA, .971 OPS, 7 HR.
But you can see what attracts Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phillies’ front office to Moose: As far as the offensive stats the Phillies like to see, well, Moose would have had the fourth most walks on the 2018 Phillies, (though he and Franco are almost dead even in OBP) and he hits a few home runs. Moustakas saw more lefties in 2018 (181 AB) than Franco (108 AB) and looked a lot better doing it: .260 with 17 XBH, as opposed to Franco’s .222 BA and 5 XBH. And who doesn’t love a good clubhouse guy? The Phillies could use a guy or two in there who is capable of shouting a heartbeat into a dead lineup.
The main difference, as you’ve guessed, is in the defense. Franco’s dWAR was in the negatives (-1.1), while Moose managed to keep his at 0.4 (The highest dWAR in baseball for a third baseman in 2018 belonged to Matt Chapman of Oakland, with 3.5). He would be a defensive upgrade, opening the door to acquiring ground ball pitcher Dallas Keuchel and strengthening a deep weakness of this team. With Jean Segura next to him at shortstop, the left side of the infield would be a bit more locked up.
Last season was the first time Franco seemed to put things together for a longer stretch of time. If given the choice after Machado between Franco and Moose, my instinct has been, you might as well see if, finally, Franco is able to become the effective player we’ve been assured is in there by managers and hitting coaches. But, he’s had plenty of time to do so, and neither Franco nor Moustakas is blessed with the consistency that make either one a reliable asset. You could find reasons to stick either of them in there if you’re not a team with Manny Machado on the roster.
Is it worth throwing Moustakas at third base, moving on from Franco, and still seeing if Nolan Arenado or Anthony Rendon become available in next year’s free agent class? The Phillies can afford to overpay for a slight improvement, and they couldn’t be blamed for deciding Franco’s time was over.
But, let’s face reality here, if the Phillies don’t have Machado at third base, the player there won’t be Maikel Franco or Mike Moustakas. It will, at least to start off, simply be not-Manny Machado, and it would take a minute to come to terms with a slight defensive, lefty-hitting upgrade at third rather than the elite level talent for which people have been hoping. I don’t have an answer for you. I’m sure you have one of your own.