I'm not sure what it is either, but it has to be something!
Today, the first day of the 2009 Hot Stove League, Dayton Moore of the Kansas City Royals completed a trade with Larry Beinfest of the Florida Marlins that would send Leo Nunez in exchange for Mike Jacobs.
A confusing trade, when one considers the logjam of first base/designated hitters that the Royals currently have on their 40-man roster. Because of this logjam—as well as depth within the minor-league ranks of the organization—it appears obvious that Moore is setting up pieces for what could be a major move.
Consider that the Royals' 40-man roster currently has the likes of Kila Ka'aihue, Billy Butler, Ross Gload, Mark Teahen, and Ryan Shealy at the 1B/DH position. While Ka'aihue and Butler can easily be optioned to the minors, one has to think that is more of a parallel move.
Thus, it wouldn't make sense to take a piece from your bullpen to add a player whom isn't going to truly come as an upgrade. It would be like the Yankees adding David Wright or Jose Reyes and not making any subsequent roster moves.
So what is next?
This is purely speculation, but I have to believe Moore made this move with the idea of trading Ka'aihue and/or Butler. Both would certainly bring in more than it cost to acquire Jacobs and wouldn't really come as a detriment to the organization, long term. With young, pre-arbitration major leaguers becoming premium trade chips in baseball, Ka'aihue and Butler could actually bring in a fair amount.
The major issue I have with this trade is that it takes an arm, albeit a mediocre one, from the Royals' bullpen, thus bogart-ing my WWOD plan to move Joakim Soria to the rotation. Obviously, that plan cannot be entirely ruled out, but it definitely puts a dent in the idea.
Another issue is the added payroll that comes with Jacobs—his arbitration figure is rumored to hit $3.5M. That is, the (speculated) plan to move Ka'aihue or Butler could have stilled occurred, while saving some money, keeping Nunez around, and giving the first base job to Shealy.
However, Moore is cited as desiring power for his corner infielders, on-base abilities be damned! With a suitor on the roster unlikely to post an isolated power figure (ISO) of over .200, Jacobs is exactly the player Moore desires.
Aside from strong power numbers, what type of player is that?
Jacobs turned 28 today, and entering his age 28 season, he has just begun to enter the prime years of his career. With a slightly below-average walk rate, and a poor strikeout rate, Jacobs comes close to being a prototypical 'three true outcomes' (3TO) hitter.
In addition to this, Jacobs is a terrible fielding first basemen, ranking dead last in fielding plus/minus. He also finished last on The Hardball Times' Revised Zone Rating (RZR). Clearly, Moore intends to start Jacobs at designated hitter, lest he admits to not learning anything from this year's Rays.
With 150+ games as a designated in Kansas City, I would anticipate Jacobs to post a line of .260/.315/.465. This would put Jacobs into Paul Konerko/Garrett Atkins/Lyle Overbay circa 2008 territory, not a terribly acquisition for a mediocre bullpen arm.
Who is this mediocre bullpen arm?
Leo Nunez is a power arm. He has been labeled as such since being signed as a non-drafted Free Agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000. For Nunez's major-league career, his fastball has average 93.3 MPH, while boosting it a tick to 94.4 MPH just this past season.
Nunez was not fully developed when he made his major-league debut, but he has improved with his time in the majors. Either through luck, or possibly the improved velocity on his fastball, Nunez has greatly improved his gopher-ball tendencies. The move to the weaker league and a better pitchers environment can only help Nunez's development.
It will be interesting to see what the Marlins' front office does with all of these power arms in their bullpen. I do, however, imagine that Nunez's acquisition signals the beginning of the end for closer Kevin Gregg.
It is the trickle-down affect which has the Marlins currently on top for this trade. Between Jacobs and Gregg, the Marlins cut an already paltry payroll by at least $8M. It is assumed that Gregg will bring in around Jacobs' production, while Nunez can easily replace what Gregg would have given the Marlins.
However, if the Royals manage to scam say, Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies for Butler or Ka'aihue. The Royals may have to toss in a couple lower-level prospects, even then the trade is unlikely, but I imagine this is the type of trade that Dayton Moore is looking for with his fist base/designated hitter surplus.