To spend money on a homegrown free agent at the start of a rebuild could make sense if club officials could also envision gaining value toward the back end of the contract. Moustakas and Cain, set to turn 32 in April, made less sense in the long term. The Royals also had internal options at third base, including Cuthbert, 25, who filled in respectably in 2016, and Dozier, 26, a former first-round pick.
"We've made it very clear," Moore said. "We do remain focused on Eric. But right now, we haven't been too successful."
Cain ultimately signed a five-year, $80 million deal last month with the Milwaukee Brewers after having little communication with the Royals this offseason. The deal represented the largest of this sluggish winter and also netted the Royals a compensation pick after the first round. The move benefited both sides.
Moustakas, however, is still without a home after a long winter. The absence of a market for his services first surfaced in December, when the Los Angeles Angels signed free agent Zack Cozart of the Reds to fill a hole at third base. The Angels were long viewed as a favorite to land Moustakas, who grew up in the Los Angeles area.
But with the Angels out of the picture, others have followed. The San Francisco Giants traded for Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria. The Mets opted for Frazier, who commanded a contract worth less in dollars and years than the long-term deal Moustakas has sought. The Braves, once thought of as a possible destination, have remained quiet under new general manager Alex Anthopoulos. This is the market is 2018.
Moustakas batted .272 with a .314 on-base percentage and career highs in homers, slugging percentage (.521) and OPS (.835) last season. His overall value, however, was less impressive in an environment that saw homers being hit at record paces across the league. In 148 games, Moustakas was worth 1.8 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference, less than half of his career-high 4.4 WAR in 2015.
Put another way: One club might see Moustakas as an All-Star third baseman, a strong defensive player with the ability to hit 40 homers in the right ballpark. Another might see a player with a short track record of success, at least one major injury, and about to turn 30 in seven months.
Among clubs with a possible need at third base and big coffers, perhaps only the Yankees remain. But New York -- like many big-market teams -- is seeking to remain under the sport's luxury tax and appears loathe to hand out long-term deals this winter, especially with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson set to become free agents next year.
Other clubs, sensing a potential bargain, could emerge as February continues. Then there is Moustakas' former team, the Royals. For now, the market appears dry, and while Moore will not publicly close the book on a reunion, he has emphasized that Hosmer remains the priority.
"We'll see," Moore said. "Right now, we're focused on rebuilding on farm system. We're focused on managing our payroll in a more efficient way, and doing everything we can to build the most competitive team possible for 2018, within the payroll guidelines that we have."
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