Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals acquired Mike Jacobs from the Florida Marlins for reliever Leo Nunez. The Marlins, always in cost-cutting mode, weren’t particularly interested in taking Jacobs to arbitration this winter, and with a team full of bad defenders, opening up first base to hide one of them seems like a pretty good idea. Plus, Nunez’s sparkly 2.98 ERA and 94 MPH fastball have them thinking that he could be a potential late inning reliever. Even though they’re wrong on that count (Nunez’s combination of lots of fly balls and no strikeouts make him a pretty lousy reliever), moving Jacobs before he costs them too much money makes sense for Florida.
But from the other perspective, why on earth does Kansas City want Jacobs? Yes, his power is appealing, and he’s better than his .299 OBP in 2008 would suggest, but even as a .270/.330/.490 guy (which is basically what Marcel has him projected at for 2009), he’s just barely better than a legue average hitter. If we call him +5 runs offensively, then subtract 10 runs for the position adjustment, he’d be a -5 run player if he played league average defense. But he doesn’t – he’s one of the worst defensive first baseman in the game, racking up +/- ratings of -12, -10, and -27 the last three years. Even if we consider 2008 to be an outlier, we’d have to estimate his defensive value at around -10 runs compared to an average first baseman, which we then add to his previous -5 rating, and all of the sudden, Jacobs is about 15 runs worse than a league average first baseman.
That’s replacement level, or just barely above it. Bad defenders who can put up an .800 OPS in the majors are just not that hard to find. All Kansas City had to do was look internally. They already have a similar player in Ryan Shealy, plus Kila Ka’aihue, and Billy Butler, so Jacobs just adds a fourth power hitting DH type to the Royals roster. And, to top it off, he’s going to be the most expensive of the group while potentially being the least productive.
I know the Royals are trying to put a competitive team on the field to draw fans, but this isn’t the way to do it. If Dayton Moore keeps trying to patch the roster with guys like Jacobs and last year’s Jose Guillen signing, he’s just going to prolong the mediocrity. This isn’t how you build a winner.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.