Should Washington trade for Mike Moustakas if it means bolstering the farm system?
At first glance, this trade might not make sense because in the past the Reds have stated they are done attaching prospects in order to dump salary. The 2018 trade that sent Homer Bailey and prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray to the Dodgers come to mind.
Yet, the Reds have been adamant about cutting salary and have already started by trading away Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers for virtually nothing. The Reds front office wants to be able to keep Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Sonny Gray and the best way to do that is by moving Moustakas’s contract.
The Proposed Return
Moustakas is owed $16 million this year, $18 million in 2023, and has a mutual option for 2024 that includes a $4 million buyout. Per FanGraphs, Washington’s 2022 payroll including arbitration projections sits at $136,443,333, leaving the team plenty of spending money. For a rebuilding team, they shouldn’t be looking to shell out massive contracts yet. However, trading for players on bad contracts in order to bolster the farm system is a different situation.
A key component of the Kansas City Royals 2015 World Series team, Moustakas has been derailed by injuries over the last two seasons. In 2019 with the Brewers, he slashed .254/.329/.516, with 35 homers. That led to the Reds signing him to a four-year deal worth $64 million at the start of the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, over his two years with the Reds, he is hitting .217, with 14 homers, 49 RBIs, and an OPS of .717. In Washington, Moustakas would bring much-needed veteran leadership to a young team and he can play all over the infield.
Predominately a third baseman, he has also spent time at first and second and is an ideal DH candidate. It is widely assumed the new CBA will implement a universal DH. DHing would keep Moustakas from taking valuable defensive reps from Luis García and Carter Kieboom while staying fresh. The situation becomes more complicated if the universal DH isn’t implemented.
The main prize of this trade for Washington would be Graham Ashcraft and Ivan Johnson, the Reds 6th and 16th ranked prospects per MLB Pipeline. Ashcraft is a 22-year-old pitcher who ended his 2021 season at AA. In 14 starts, he went 7-3, with a 3.36 ERA, and 74 strikeouts, while walking 24. Opponents only hit a meager .218 against him with four homers.
MLB Pipeline predicts Ashcraft will make the Majors at some point in 2022. Washington’s farm system is made up of mostly players who are a few years away. Adding a prospect who is close to MLB ready is a coup. Especially one that can help address one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, the starting rotation. Known for his fastball that sits between 93-97 and can hit triple digits, he needs to work on his command.
Johnson is already 23 and finished last year at A+. A middle infielder, Johnson’s calling card is his impressive bat speed. Last year he slashed .264/.367/.451, with 10 homers, and 41 RBIs.
What Would Washington Be Giving Up?
For the Nationals, they need to decide if they still believe in Victor Robles or are they finally ready to move on? Lane Thomas supplanted him as the starter in center at the end of 2021 but, has yet to play an entire season in the Majors.
In 45 games with the Nats, Thomas hit .270, with seven homers, 27 RBIs, and an OPS of .853. Keep in mind, he slowed down during the last month of the season.
A rookie in 2019, Robles burst onto the scene hitting .255, with 17 homers, 65 RBIs, and an OPS of .745. Defensively, he recorded 12 outfield assists and 25 DRS while primarily playing center. But last season, he seemed lost at the plate hitting .203, with two homers, 19 RBIs, and an OPS of .605 in 107 games.
Will Harris, who has one year left on his contract has been a disappointment in D.C. Over his two years with the Nats, he has battled countless injuries leading him to throw a total of 23 2/3 innings. Washington’s bullpen is a disaster, but it is very unlikely the team re-signs him after his contract ends.
Trading for Moustakas makes sense and provides another bat for the middle of the lineup. Giving up on Robles is a toughy and it depends on the return. Washington’s farm system is full of pitching talent and targeting a positional player may be the better move.
Jay Allen is the Reds fifth ranked prospect and would be an excellent prize. Only 19, he was drafted this past year after an impressive high school career. In 19 games at the Rookie League, he slashed .328/.440/.557, with three homers and 11 RBIs.
He only struck out 12 times while drawing eight walks. A switch hitter, he does better from the left side of the plate and currently plays centerfield.
Adding to the farm needs to be the Nationals priority and receiving a potential long term building block is a must. And if Moustakas can stay healthy and go back to hitting 25+ homers is just icing on the cake.