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The Reds overpaid for Mike Moustakas, but maybe that’s okay

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Sometimes you wait into February to make major signings. Sometimes that’s not the best idea, though

Cincinnati Reds v Milwaukee Brewers
“Hey Nick! Y’know, my nickname back in high school was ‘Cheese Coney with onions and Moustard.’ Small world, huh?”
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Reds got themselves a second baseman and a middle-of-the-order galoot, which is the headline news here. Those are two things they absolutely needed and it’s important to keep that in perspective. The nits I am about to pick here are pretty small, all things considered.

The word on the street is that Moose will earn $64 million over the next four years. The Reds have that and plenty more to spare, and from everything I’ve read it seems like Moose is the kind of fella who deserves all the good things to come his way. It is the largest single investment the Reds have ever made in a free agent, a bright-flashing loud-honking signal that they are going for the damn thing in 2020. And they’ve made clear this is the beginning of their offseason, not the end. These are all unqualified good things.

It seems the Reds sat down after the season and made their wish list with Moustakas near the top. They told him what they were willing to spend and he, beginning his third arduous trip through the free agency process in as many years, thought that sounded just fine. Sometimes it is just that simple and context is merely a tertiary concern.

But it’s hard to ignore some of the context here, though. Just hours after the Moose News hit the twitter, the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players came and went. Among the notable players who were made available were Jonathan Villar (the Orioles outrighted him last week) and Cesar Hernandez. Villar ended up traded to the Marlins for a low-level prospect later yesterday. I guess we’ll see where Hernandez ends up.

Here’s a comparison of each’s wRC+ and fWAR, respectively, from 2017-2019, with their 2020 Steamer projections as the fourth row:

2B Comparison

Moustakas Villar Hernandez
Moustakas Villar Hernandez
113 / 2.0 72 / -0.4 111 / 3.3
105 / 2.4 93 / 2.0 99 / 2.1
113 / 2.8 107 / 4.0 92 / 1.7
111 / 2.8 97 / 1.8 94 / 1.8

Moose has been the most consistent, Villar had the best single season, and Hernandez kinda slots in between the two for some context. This whole thing here is to try to flesh out what the market for starting second basemen looks like at the moment. Their respective teams cut loose Villar and Hernandez rather than pay them about $10 million on one-year deals. Of course, Moose will make $16 million every year for the next four. I’d say even the most generous appraisal would grant that the Reds overpaid him by a non-trivial amount.

But what does that actually mean? Again, context is important. The Reds have a war chest of cash to spend this winter to try and make the team a contender in 2020. Spending that money efficiently is important, but not nearly as important as actually getting some shit done. Yeah, maybe this deal for Moustakas is excessive given the market for infielders right now, but the value of certainty cannot be discounted. Maybe the Reds could have traded for Villar (he went to the Marlins and we should give the Reds the benefit of the doubt that they at least gave it a try). Maybe they could have waited a week or two on Moose to see how the rest of the market would develop, but doing so runs the risk that he tells you to kick rocks and signs somewhere else. My mind-reading powers are novice-level at best, but I figure Moose is pretty damn tired of free agent negotiations and was quite eager to sort it out before Christmas.

The old saying goes that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It’s a pretty old saying and I would imagine that the market rate for birds both in hand and in bush has fluctuated a bit over the years, but irregardless! The Reds needed a player like Moose and he was the one willing to sign on the dotted line right now. They paid a premium for that certainty, but they can afford it. What they can’t afford is to be too passive this winter and risk throwing away their shot.