With Greg Bird putting up below average offensive production for the Yankees at first base (97 wRC+, 95 OPS+), the Yankees could turn to an unorthodox option on the trade market. Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com is reporting the team has interest in acquiring Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and moving him across the diamond to first base.
The Yankees have gotten very little production out of first base for the second consecutive season, as the combination of Bird, Tyler Austin and Neil Walker has produced a .657 OPS – 29th among 30 Major League teams.
Morosi reports the Royals expect to trade Moustakas, who became a victim of the 2017-18 free agent freeze and signed with the Royals on a one-year, $6.5 million deal that features a $15 million mutual option for 2019. Morosi mentioned also that the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies are also interested in Moustakas, but as a third baseman. At 29, the 2nd overall pick in the 2007 draft seemed poised to cash in on a season where he hit a career-high 38 home runs. But, that opportunity never came and he found himself back in Kansas City for cheap.
In 82 games so far this season, Moustakas has put up a .258/.312/.472 line with 16 home runs. He has, however, just 17.0 innings of big league baseball at first base in his career and they’ve all come in 2018. Moustakas would likely receive the sort of crash course that Chase Headley got at the end of 2017 following the acquisition of Todd Frazier. Headley only had 62 innings at first base under his belt when the Yankees made that move on July 18, 2017. However, Headley had been a bit of a utility man with the San Diego Padres, also seeing time in the outfield. Moustakas only has a few minor league innings at shortstop on his résumé.
Acquiring Moustakas would show the Yankees have zero confidence in Bird’s ability to put it all together in 2018. He still has minor league options remaining, so the Yankees would likely stash him in Triple-A until September 1 to get things ironed out. A move that acquires salary like this would be worth watching also because the Yankees want to add to the starting rotation and stay below the $197 million luxury tax threshold. The Yanks could shed the remaining salary of Neil Walker by attaching a higher quality prospect, which is how the team managed to jettison Headley alongside Bryan Mitchell.
The internal options to replace Bird aren’t great. Austin recently hit the minor league 7-day disabled list with a back issue, where he joins fellow Triple-A first baseman Mike Ford. The next man up would be Billy McKinney, who has already cracked 11 home runs in the International League but has primarily suited up in the outfield this season. Ryan McBroom has had an impressive breakout after being acquired for Rob Refsnyder from Toronto, hitting .313/.336/.498 at Triple-A while splitting time between first base and right field.
Greg Bird is just 12-for-61 (.715 OPS) in his past 21 games. In that same span, Mike Moustakas is 15-for-71 (.626 OPS). Neither is lighting the world on fire at the moment. I think it’s too soon to be making a declaration in either direction on this rumor. Bird rounding into shape so that the Yankees only have to trade for a starter would be the best case scenario. But, if Bird gets injured or continues to struggle, Brian Cashman has the pieces and the flexibility to land Moustakas for much less than the trade that sent ex-teammate Kelvin Herrera to the Washington Nationals.