Reds must solve logjam at 3B with Suarez, Moustakas

Published 9:27 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

Mark Sheldon
MLB Cincinnati Reds Reporter

One of the most perplexing offseason questions facing the Reds ahead of 2022 is what they will do at third base. It’s not because they have a vacancy to fill, but rather that Cincinnati has two veteran players – both with large contracts and coming off poor seasons – to consider in Eugenio Suárez and Mike Moustakas.
A common retort from the fanbase seems to be something like: “just trade or release one of them.” At least on the surface, that does not appear to be so easy for the Reds to do.
Suárez has three years and $35.6 million remaining on his contract. Moustakas has two years and $38 million remaining on his contract.
Unlike some big-market and free-spending clubs, it’s a lot tougher to just write off that sum of money for a small-market team like the Reds.
Over 145 games during 2021, Suárez batted .198 (worst in the Major Leagues) with 31 home runs, 79 RBIs and a .713 OPS. And it took a great September for him to get those numbers to look slightly better.
From 2018-19, Suárez had been one of the best-hitting third basemen in baseball. His ’19 season was especially one for the ages, as he slugged 49 homers with 103 RBIs while batting .271 with a .930 OPS. Late that offseason, a swimming pool accident left Suárez with a serious right shoulder injury that required surgery. In the shortened 2020 season that followed, he batted only .202 with a .781 OPS and 15 homers in 57 games.
Moustakas was a key offseason addition before the ’20 season when he signed a four-year, $64 million contract. It looked like a good move at the time considering he was a 2019 All-Star for the Brewers and had just hit 35 homers with 87 RBIs and an .845 OPS in 143 games. But injuries and subpar production have defined the first two years of the deal.
In ’20, Moustakas batted .230 with a .799 OPS and eight homers in 44 games. Over the ’21 season, he batted .208 with a .653 OPS, six homers and 22 RBIs in 62 games while missing 85 games on the injured list.
Both Suárez and Moustakas likely have limited trade value this winter. As I’ve written before, it would be a mistake for the Reds to package one of these players with prospects or more coveted players as a way to offload a contract.
After the 2018 season, the Reds did just that in a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. They dealt Homer Bailey and a pair of top 10 organizational projects in starting pitcher Josiah Gray and shortstop Jeter Downs and received outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, starting pitcher Alex Wood and utility player Kyle Farmer.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea, and fans in town loved the bold move. A much-maligned Bailey was owed $28 million in the final year of his six-year, $105 million deal – including the buyout of his ’19 option. The Reds wanted to contend again and were willing to spend some prospect capital in order to do it. But the trade was ultimately not a successful one for Cincinnati.
Bailey was immediately released by the Dodgers, as they planned to do, and he signed with the Royals. Gray went on to make his big league debut with the Dodgers this year but was part of a Trade Deadline blockbuster to the Nationals for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Downs was also traded, in 2020, to the Red Sox as part of the Mookie Betts deal. Imagine what the Reds could have gotten in return for both young players had they stayed in the organization.
Puig had a star-crossed half season in Cincinnati and was traded at the 2019 deadline to Cleveland as part of the Trevor Bauer deal. Well past his prime, Kemp was released one month into the ’19 season. Wood spent most of 2019 on the injured list and made only seven starts before he returned to Los Angeles as a free agent for 2020.
Of course, Farmer emerged as the Reds’ shortstop this year and has become a key clubhouse figure. He’s the lone player the Reds still have from the trade.
Back to Suárez and Moustakas, manager David Bell’s attempt to platoon the two hitters in the second half did not work. Suárez is 30 and his final month of this season was something to build from. He would appear to have more upside than Moustakas, who is 33 and was hobbled by a foot injury this year.
Having the designated hitter in the National League next season – if approved in a new collective bargaining agreement – would be a potential option to help solve the logjam.
But general manager Nick Krall and Bell certainly have a tough issue to contend with in finding a way to make the situation work well for all involved.