Although Dayton Moore has not come out and outright said that Mike Moustakas will start 2011 in the minors, he has all but said it.   There are a lot of good reasons for this plan:

  1. Moustakas has just a half season of AAA experience under his belt (and just one half season of AA experience for that matter) and a little more time in Omaha might be in order.  
  2. The 2011 Royals are going to be borderline awful, if not completely GOD awful.   Remember when Scott Elarton was the Opening Day starter?   That rotation is probably better than what the Royals are going to have in April of next year.   Having Moustakas in the majors in April is not going to keep the Royals from being irrelevant by July.
  3. If Mike Moustakas is all we hope he is, then he is also going to become very valuable (i.e. very expensive) by the time his free agent clock becomes a concern.   Given that noted big market lover Scott Boras is Mike’s agent….well, you do the math.

So, the widely expected 2011 Moustakas plan is to keep him in the minors for a long enough period of time so as to give the Royals at least a partial extra season of control.  

Unlike salary arbitration, options and Rule 5 eligibility, major league free agency is really pretty simple.   After six full years of major league service (either on the 25 man roster or the major league disabled list) a player is a free agent.   A ‘full year’ of service time is considered to be 172 days even though the full major league schedule spans 182 days.

Dayton Moore made a reference in an interview earlier this month as to there being a difference between bringing up a player who is already on the 40 man roster as opposed to bringing a guy up and putting him on the 40 man for the first time and what it means to his service clock.    My usual quick and crappy research was unable to turn up what this difference is, but given that Moustakas is not on the 40 man roster it is certainly a plus with regard to service clock issues.

In the end, the idea that the Royals have to wait for June 1 to buy an extra year before free agency is not correct.  In fact, Kansas City could conceivably call on Moustakas pretty much anytime after April 10th and enjoy his services, not for six years, but for almost a full seven.

Of course, such a blatant use of the service clock rules is not a particularly good way to foster good will between a player his organization and his agent.   I’m not sure if you noticed, but Scott Boras remembers stuff like that.    Given the state of the Royals in 2011, there is not much harm in letting Moustakas get 150 or so at-bats in AAA before making the call and at least try to avoid the look of service clock manipulator.

Now, all of the above ignores the other monetary issue:  salary arbitration.   Here, it gets pretty dicey as to when you call up Mike.   Obviously, three full years and a player is eligible for arbitration, but we also are all familiar with the ‘Super Two’ factor.   Those in the top 17% of players with two plus years experience also become eligible for arbitration.   Which means the Royals, if they are hell bent on saving money, will have to gamble on when they can call up Moustakas and not risk ‘buying’ an extra year of salary arbitration.   Again, if Mike is all we think he might be, arbitration can get really expensive really fast.

This writer’s opinion is that the Royals should be cognizant of the free agency clock with regard to Moustakas.   As stated above, there is no real reason to not hold Mike in AAA for enough days so that he is not eligible for free agency until after 2017 instead of 2016.   That said, keeping him in AAA (assuming he does not struggle in Omaha to start the year) long enough to avoid Mike becoming a super two does not make as much sense to me.

Getting Moustakas acclimated to the majors in advance of the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Montgomery and well in advance of Wil Myers and John Lamb might have benefits that exceed the cost savings of avoiding an extra year of salary arbitration.  

By most accounts, Mike is a leader.   It’s worth reading Greg Schaum’s interview with Eric Hosmer and what Moustakas did as far as helping Hosmer acclimate to professional ball and imagine him doing something similar at the major league level.   Having Moustakas get even three months of major league experience in before the next wave of prospects come to Kansas City might be of great worth to the organization in the long run.

Now, I know, the above paragraph dances along the much maligned (rightly so) organizational drivel about grit, clubhouse presence and veteran leadership and all the crap that was dished out over the past five years to justify lesser or older players taking time from guys who needed a look.   That said, there is also validity to needing leaders and good clubhouse guys and such.   Moustakas could be one of those guys and getting him started in front of some of the other prospects is key to him taking on such a role.

Of course, if Mike hits .195 with one home run for Omaha this April, we can just wad up the above column and trash can it.   As the new optimistic me frolics through the off-season, I will go ahead and predict a Moustakas major league debut on April 26th as the Royals take on the Indians in Cleveland.