In the lifespan of a major-league baseball player, there are precious few things more venerated or hallowed than the concept of free agency. A symbol of fortitude and resilience, players must accrue six full years of service time before reaching the riches of the open market. Once there, players are, finally, free to sign with the highest bidder, securing their careers with guaranteed contracts and their families with generational wealth.
The process is supposed to be pleasant -- until it is not.
"Everybody wants things to work out in the perfect fashion," former Royals pitcher Jason Vargas, a current free agent, said late last season. "But they usually don't."
This, perhaps, is the best way to describe the winter of third baseman Mike Moustakas, a free-agent foray turned potential nightmare in the space of four months. Maybe it's the only way. Amid a sluggish free-agent market, in a winter of player discontent and labor fisticuffs via press release, perhaps no player has been subject to a stranger market than Moustakas.
A 29-year-old player coming off a career-high 38 homers in 2017, a two-time All-Star with a World Series championship ring, Moustakas is still unemployed and seemingly without significant suitors. Most of the big-market clubs in need of a third baseman have filled those holes via trades and other free agents. His former club remains fixated on first baseman Eric Hosmer and less keen on investing money at third base.
"Based on the picture that we have right now, we're prepared to go with Cheslor Cuthbert," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said on Tuesday. "Hunter Dozier is a possibility at third base. That's the main competition there.
"Cheslor is not the caliber player that Mike is at this particular time. But we feel like it's important to give him an opportunity to prove himself."
The comments came one day after the New York Mets signed free agent Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million deal, removing another possible destination for Moustakas. Yet, the Royals' philosophy has remained unchanged for most of the winter.
In November, Moore signaled the club's desire to retain Hosmer, 28, as it transitioned into a rebuilding process and focused on restocking its farm system. As the Royals' attention moved to Hosmer, the team braced to lose center fielder Lorenzo Cain and Moustakas.
The philosophy was based on multiple factors, club officials said. The Royals believed that Hosmer, one year younger than Moustakas, could better fit into a rebuild that would take two to three years to get off the ground. It also believed the prices for Cain and Moustakas would be exorbitant.