Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Nunez for Jacobs Trade

Yeah, I’m late to the party, but I still want to give you my thoughts about the Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs trade. Feel free to add your own comments.

Do you remember how the Royals initially obtained Leo Nunez? They got him in a trade with the Pirates for Benito Santiago on December 16, 2004. I think we got the better end of that deal, don’t you?

When Nunez first pitched at the Major League level for the Royals in 2005 he was 21 years old, but he looked more like he was 12. He had a great fastball but really struggled to get guys out. He appeared in 41 games in 2005 and was 3-2 with a 7.55 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. The was during the time period when Allard Baird was moving guys through the system way too quickly and feeding them to the lions at the Major League Level.

If you look back at Nunez’s Minor League numbers that season, he had no business being called up to Kansas City. In High Desert he saw action in eight games and had a 9.00 ERA. Somehow that prompted a promotion to Wichita where he pitched 12 games. He did have an impressive 0.69 ERA but the Royals purchased his contract on May 9 of that season. So, he skipped Omaha and was knocked around at the big league level until he was optioned back to Wichita on August 6. He came back with the September call ups.

In 2006, the Royals were a little smarter with Nunez. He started in Wichita (1-2, 4.29 ERA in 15 games) and advanced to Omaha (2-2, 2.13 ERA in 23 games) before getting three brief shots with the Royals at the Major League level, during which he was 0-0 with a 4.73 ERA in seven appearances.

Nunez opened the 2007 season on the 15-day DL with a fractured right wrist. He ended up on the 60-day DL. In late May he began pitching for Wichita (1-0, 0.87 ERA in 6 appearances) and he bounced around between Omaha (1-2, 2.74 ERA in 5 appearances) and Kansas City (2-4, 3.92 ERA in 13 appearances) for the remainder of the season.

Clearly he was improving and in position to have a solid year in 2008, but he had more than a solid year. He went 4-1 in 45 appearances with a 2.98 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. His stuff was electric early in the season and he was sorely missed in late May and all of June when he went down with an injury.

At 25 years old, after having his best year, Dayton Moore decided to trade Nunez when his stock was peaking. Of course, nobody knows where the ceiling is on Nunez, but in Moore’s mind, the Royals needed more power in their lineup and one of the positions in which they have been lacking in power is first base, so he traded Nunez to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs—a left-handed hitting first baseman who definitely has some power. He hit 32 HR and drove in 93 runs in 141 games with the Marlins in 2008. The down side, offensively speaking, is that he hit just .247 and had a .299 OBP, while striking out 119 times. So, he’ll join a Royals team that is already undisciplined at the plate.

I understand Moore’s thinking—adding Jacobs to a lineup that already includes Jose Guillen, and the Royals finally have a couple of legitimate long ball threats. But you have to wonder if anybody will be on base. The Royals had a pitiful .320 team OBP last season, which ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the AL. And they were last in walks (392). Since this trade occurred, Moore has also traded for Coco Crisp who has a career .331 OBP. And presumably, the addition of Crisp spells the end of Mark Teahen’s career with the Royals. Teahen strikes out way too often and hit just .255 last year, so adding Crisp should help the overall OBP, but you have to wonder if it’ll be enough. And you have to consider the fact that Jacobs is not good defensively, so we’ll probably see more of Ross Gload in the eighth and ninth innings.

The question is—is Leo Nunez on the front edge of his peak years, during which he’ll be a good/great relief pitcher for years to come or was 2008 a fluke? Maybe the question should be—are the numbers that Jacobs put up in 2008, at the age of 28, a fluke? They are certainly the best numbers of his four-year Major League career. Of course, nobody can really predict what’s going to happen, but Moore’s job is to evaluate our current roster, determine how best to improve it, and then take the chances he believes in most to make it happen.

None of this takes into account the fact that the Royals already have a boat-load of first baseman. Ryan Shealy, if he could ever stay healthy, is a legitimate Major League first baseman. And what about 24-year-old Kila Ka'aihue? He had 37 HR and 100 RBI between NW Arkansas and Omaha in 2008. Maybe Shealy or Ka'aihue could put a little pressure on Billy Butler at the DH spot. Or maybe the depth will come in handy in case of an injury. Moore has been waiting for Shealy to produce for the past two seasons and Shealy has been injured repeatedly. Ka'aihue has been slowly advancing through the Royals’ system since they drafted him in 2002. Maybe Moore isn’t convinced Ka'aihue is ready. Should make for an interesting Spring Training, shouldn’t it?

Overall, I like the trade that brings Jacobs to the Royals, but it is risky, and I understand where the fans who don’t like the trade are coming from.


Jeff said...

I'm not a fan of either trade. I think Jacobs OBP will be around the .320 mark but I don't think he will hit 30 home runs pretty much negating what little value he has. Crip is 3 years removed from his best season and doesn't have the necessary on-base skills to bat leadoff but I'm sure thats where Trey will put him. Not DM's best work.

Lee Warren said...

No doubt about it, if Jacobs doesn't hit 28-30 home runs, fans aren't going to be happy with this trade--depending on what Nunez does.

I'm not crazy about the Crisp trade either. I'll be writing more about that later.

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