SURPRISE, Ariz. — Throughout the last two seasons, Royals third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert would sit in the dugout near Mike Moustakas and pick his brain.
Cuthbert would ask questions — of any of the experienced players in the clubhouse, really — and soak up knowledge. Moustakas would offer situational advice, especially when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2016 and missed the last four months of the season. Cuthbert would catalogue every tip.
He brought those lessons with him when he joined the Royals in camp last month, ready to attempt to fill Moustakas’ shoes and be the next starting third baseman. He’d shown promise, drawing praise on his defense and his hitting ability.
But when news broke late this week that Moustakas would rejoin the Royals on a guaranteed $6.5 million, one-year contract, Cuthbert didn’t feel like an opportunity had been stolen from him. He was excited.
“I know the type of player he is, the energy he brings to the dugout, everything, so I’m excited for him to be here again,” Cuthbert said.
Moustakas, 29, was re-introduced to media on Saturday after he passed a physical and officially re-signed with the Royals on a short-term deal that could pay him an additional $2.2 million for reaching 450 plate appearances this season and includes a mutual option for 2019.
The mentorship will continue.
“What he means to our clubhouse, what he means to our staff, what he means to me personally, (his wife, Stephanie) and his family, that’s what makes it special,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Baseball is not a business to me. Is there a business side of it? Yes. But to me it’s about players that have a heart to win and a heart to compete and just love playing baseball. Mike Moustakas exemplifies that.”
Moustakas’ arrival at the Royals’ spring training complex is, of course, tarnished by a wacky offseason. The Royals could not have foreseen a reunion with their World Series champion third baseman, not after he declined a $17.4 million qualifying offer to test free agency.
His agent, Scott Boras, who has been outspoken about perceived collusion by baseball owners, said during the news conference that the system failed Moustakas.
“Across the board, Moose dotted all the I’s and T’s of what excellent is in his performance,” Boras said. “When you have a system that delays recognition of that and demand for that, you know and you have inherent notice that the flag’s been raised. We’ve got to adjust that.”
The Royals jumped on the opportunity to bring back a proven veteran who could stabilize their roster and lineup.
And Moustakas appeared relieved to return to the only organization he’s known, even if only on a short-term deal that allows him to return to a baseball diamond sooner than later. He was comfortable in the clubhouse, where he found Alex Gordon and his wife were willing to help Moustakas and his family locate a new place to live in Kansas City. And he was comfortable with the management, which stuck with him through injuries and strife.
“To have an opportunity to come back to Kansas City and play baseball again, it was a no-doubter, a no-brainer for me to be able to come back here and be with a guy that trusts in me and trusts in my ability and be with a team that I trust in and a training staff that I’m comfortable with,” Moustakas said.
“I believe in everybody in this clubhouse, I believe in everybody in this organization. So it was a very easy decision to be able to come back here and play baseball for this organization.”
The ramifications of his return on the Royals roster are still unknown. The Royals expect to announce a corresponding move soon. One possibility is putting outfielder Bubba Starling, who’s experienced oblique soreness this week, on the disabled list.
At any rate, the Royals could not pass on adding a left-handed bat who last year clubbed a franchise-record 38 home runs. Moustakas was slowed by a swollen knee toward the end of the 2017 season, but still eclipsed Steve Balboni’s mark of 36 homers in the 16th game he appeared in after tying the record on Sept. 1.
Moustakas tied for fifth in the American League in home runs and set career highs with 75 runs, 85 RBIs and a .521 slugging percentage. He finished with 2.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference’s version of the stat.
“We simply don’t go to back-to-back World Series and win a world championship without his contributions, without his ability to make plays,” Moore said.
The offers Moustakas expected after revitalizing his career did not come. Like every free agent who struggled to find a job, he said, he was frustrated.
Yet he took comfort in his home life and in last week’s birth of Michael Carter, a healthy baby boy who should join him in Arizona on Tuesday.
“Blessing in disguise, is what I’d say,” he said. “For some reason, when unfortunate things happen, like my ACL or this offseason, I’m blessed with a great outcome. When I tore my ACL, I had my little baby girl. Long offseason this year, had a little baby boy. So it really doesn’t get much better than that for me.”
And when the Royals called, Moustakas was thrilled to tell his first child, Mila, that she could use her blue tutu for at least one more season.
With just over two weeks left in spring training, Moustakas is prepared to jump into baseball activities as quickly as possible. He will get minor-league at-bats and jump into the cage during live batting practice on the major-league side.
He expects to be ready for Opening Day March 29 at Kauffman Stadium.
“I’m happy to be here in Kansas City,” Moustakas said. “Thanks to Dayton and the Glass family for giving me another opportunity to come back here and help win some ballgames.”