Just a day after the completion of the World Series, two teams made a fairly interesting player swap this morning. The Kansas City Royals, looking to improve one of the majors’ worst offensive units, acquired power-hitting infielder Mike Jacobs in exchange for a serviceable reliever, Leo Nunez.
At first glance, one might think this is a steal for the Royals.
Mike Jacobs hit a career-high 32 home runs in 477 at-bats while driving in 93 runs. One of four Marlin infielders to join the 25-home run club, he posted the third-best homer-per-at-bat ratio in baseball, 14.8. Kansas City, meanwhile, ranked near the bottom of the pack with 120 home runs as a team. Even more telling, the club has not had a player hit 30-plus home runs since Jermaine Dye did so back in 2000.
It makes sense, right?
Well, no. The problem is that, while Jacobs hit for some power, he had a poor offensive season overall. The 28-year-old first baseman, due for a big salary boost in arbitration, posted a weak slash stats line of .247/.299/.514 and drew only 36 bases on balls while striking out 119 times. His on-base skills, or lack thereof, have been a serious weakness his entire career (.318 OBP), and the last thing that the Royals need is another consistent outmaking machine added to the lineup.
Did Dayton Moore not learn from his mistakes during the Jose Guillen fiasco? Moore stressed the importance of on-base percentage in several interviews earlier this fall, perhaps having finally realized the correlation between OBP and how many runs a team will score over a full season.
The Royals are coming off a season in which they ranked 26th in the majors with a .320 team OBP, on the way to finishing 25th in the majors with only 691 runs scored.
That is no coincidence, kids.
Moore, tired of losing and watching such an anemic offense struggle to plate runs on a consistent basis, seemed ready to address this.
Adding Jacobs will only makes matters worse, preventing them from putting a capable enough offense on the field to realistically compete for anything meaningful. Sure, he is only 28 years old, hits for some power and could easily connect for 30 homers and knock in 100 in 2009, at a relatively low cost.
The problem is, for a first baseman, Jacobs is not a league average offensive player. With a career OPS+ of 110—league average is 100—his offensive output leaves a lot to be desired. His OPS suffers mostly because of his inability to get on base via the walk, and is slugging percentage heavy. Like several other left-handed hitters, he struggles mightily against lefties as well, making him an ideal platoon player. In 119 at-bats against southpaws in 2008, he posted a poor line of .218/.248/.429, with only seven homers and a .677 OPS.
Jacobs is also a butcher at first base, ranking as one of the worst defensive players at the position in the majors.
No, the Royals are not giving up a whole lot in Nunez, who posted a 2.98 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched. Still, he is a cost-effective, team-controlled asset who perhaps could have brought in more in return. A power arm who at 25 appears to be entering his prime, he should fit in nicely in the backend of the Marlins' bullpen.
Jacobs' salary is expected to jump to a little under $4-million at arbitration. Therefore, it was wise for Florida, which had the smallest payroll in baseball, to deal him now. He was expendable in the Marlins' eyes, quite frankly. The club still has a great deal of power in their infield, with Jorge Cantu (.29 home runs, .808 OPS), Hanley Ramirez (33 home runs, .940 OPS) and Dan Uggla (32 home runs, .874 OPS). Cantu, who spent most of his time at third base, can shift over to first.
Top power-hitting prospect Gaby Sanchez, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, is close to reaching the show as well. Sanchez, 25, had a big year in the Southern League, posting a .917 OPS for the Carolina Mudcats. A local product who played his collegiate ball at the University of Miami, he finished with a line of .314/.404/.513, with 17 homers and 92 RBIs. He made a brief debut in the majors during September, but appears ready to take on a full-time role in the near future.
From the Royals' side, this deal is puzzling. Jacobs is simply a below-average offensive first baseman, and is the last player the Royals needed to add to the roster at this point. In addition to his poor on-base skills, Kansas City already has a logjam at the position, with Billy Butler, Ross Gload, Ryan Shealy and others expected to compete for a job in spring training.
Moore has been infatuated with his new player for a long time, and wanted to pull the trigger on this deal at the July 31 trade deadline, which may have clouded his judgment here. Perhaps he feels that Jacobs will suddenly improve upon his inability to get on base.
At least Jacobs seems to think so, telling MLB.com, "I still truly believe that I'm not a .240 hitter in the big leagues. I think the power numbers are going to stay there. I think the RBI numbers will stay there, if not be higher," he said. "The biggest thing I need to work on this [upcoming] year is being more of a complete hitter, being able to go the other way more, being able to not stay in a slump quite as long. If I get 10 more hits this year, I'm hitting .270 and my on-base percentage is .320."
Well, his track record tells us otherwise.
So, with Guillen and Jacobs getting so many at-bats in the middle of the Royals’ lineup, things could get ugly next year in Missouri.
By making continuous similar decisions like this, the Royals seem to be headed nowhere under Moore. Many people point to the Tampa Bay Rays' worst-to-first turnaround as proof that any team can turn it around and compete for the playoffs in less than a year.
Well, every team cannot do so.
The reason? Not every team has a brilliant GM like Andrew Friedman, who is tremendous at buying low and selling high, and such an excellent farm system and player development department. Clearly, this applies to the Royals, who still overpay for counting stats that do not have a direct effect on scoring runs and thus winning.Check RaysDigest.com for analysis on every transaction during the Hot Stove season. To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.