A huge domino fell this week in the Major League Baseball world and it affected our beloved Atlanta Braves and their gameplan during free agency.
Infielder Mike Moustakas may not be a name that attracts the same attention during this free agency period like third baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole.
Moustakas is a reliable, versatile performer that the Cincinnati Reds just scooped up for the price of four years and $64 million. To understand his versatility, the Reds inked Moustakas to play second base, though the Braves saw him as an insurance option at third base if free agent Josh Donaldson takes his talents elsewhere.
Moustakas had a productive year with the Milwaukee Brewers last year, belting 35 homers to go along with 87 RBIs. He would have been a great complement behind Freddie Freeman in the lineup, much like what Donaldson was this past year. But his departure off the list of available free agents puts much more pressure on Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos to get a deal done with Donaldson.
Donaldson and Rendon are the two top third basemen on the open market and with the Braves' history of not going overboard with large contracts, you can pretty much forget Rendon and his future high-priced salary. Which leaves Donaldson, who gave the Braves their money's worth with 37 homers and 94 RBIs this past season. More importantly, he provided Freeman protection in the lineup and made the Atlanta offense one of the best in the National League.
If Donaldson goes elsewhere, the Braves' in-house options are Austin Riley, who despite his torrid start, finished with a .226 batting average in 2019. He smashed 18 home runs but struggled as the season wore on. Another option is Johan Camargo, a versatile infielder who also struggled so much, he was demoted to the minor leagues for a time so he could get his swing back. He only batted .233 and lacks the power you expect out of a third baseman. With the Braves' expectations of a playoff run in 2020, they need to exhaust all options to make this lineup top notch.
We're still a few months away from spring training so the Braves have time to figure out a game plan. But there's one less piece for Anthopoulos to consider as an option at the hot corner. This should speed up the urgency to sign Donaldson. He remains the Braves' best and only alternative.