Hot Stove Helper: Royals focus on '06 fantasy sleepers

Throughout January and February, we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite like Hot Stove Daily, though. The focus here is limited. We're only looking at ownable fantasy players who've found new employers.

Kansas City Royals

Kids today might not believe it, but there was honestly a time when the Royals were very, very good. From 1976 to 1985, Kansas City won seven division titles, two American League pennants, and one World Series. They had six 90-win seasons during that stretch (and another in 1975, when they finished second to Oakland). Those Kansas City teams had few weaknesses.

In recent years, of course, the Royals are a punchline. They've been a sub-.400 team in five of the last 10 seasons. In 2008, they narrowly avoided a fifth straight last-place finish. This is not exactly the golden age of Kansas City baseball.

Still, if you have a diverse fantasy portfolio, you're going to own a few Royals. They're all bargains. Joakim Soria is an elite closer who gets drafted like a second-tier RP (ADP 93.6), Mike Aviles is a useful yet forgotten middle infielder (153.8), and Zack Greinke is the best starter you're likely to find in Round 12 (145.5). Alex Gordon remains a fantasy option at third base, too. It's a messy position, and the 25-year-old has reportedly altered his approach. Kansas City also picked up a few new pieces this offseason, and two of them will be owned in mixed leagues. Let's review...

Coco Crisp, acquired via trade

The Red Sox had no great need for the switch-hitting Crisp – he was basically an expendable pawn in bench-clearing situations – but he's a useful addition to the Royals. You can expect him to occupy the leadoff spot for KC. Crisp will steal often enough to achieve fantasy relevance in larger leagues. He's swiped at least 20 bases in four of the past five seasons. The 29-year-old is a career .280/.331/.409 hitter, and he finished with similar rates in '08 (.283/.344/.407). Crisp's career high in home runs is 16, but that was four seasons and two teams ago. He's really a gap-power guy. Realistically, you're anticipating modest help in runs and steals from Crisp, and you're hoping that his batting average won't be a problem. Recall that in a 12-team mixed leagues, .290 is nothing special.

The fallout from this trade is at least as interesting as the deal itself. Crisp takes over in center field, David DeJesus shifts to left, and Jose Guillen remains in right. That leaves Mark Teahen homeless. He earned a few loyalists following the 18 HR/10 SB season in '06, so Teahen's situation is of interest to fantasy owners. He'll get a look at second base, but Willie (expletive) Bloomquist is ridiculously considered the front-runner there. The Royals are rumored to have an interest in Orlando Hudson, too.

Mike Jacobs, acquired via trade

Jacobs offers power, but that's all he'll contribute. He doesn't hit left-handed pitching (.235/.275/.414 career), and he doesn't score runs because he's almost never on base (.299 OBP in '08). Fantasy experts occasionally use the 28-year-old Jacobs as an example of the depth at his position, but in fact he's a disaster in three categories. The top tier first basemen will out-homer him by at least 10, out-score him by 50 runs, and out-hit him by 80 points. Jacobs' ADP is 254.4 at Mock Draft Central, and that really seems too high.

What you hate most about the Jacobs trade is that it buries 24-year-old Kila Ka'aihue. In 401 minor league at-bats last season, Ka'aihue hit an absurd .314/.456/.628. He also bashed 37 home runs, drew 104 walks, and struck out just 67 times. Like Jacobs, Ka'aihue is a left-handed hitter, so there's no platoon possibility there. The Jacobs move probably pushes Ka'aihue to Triple-A Omaha and Ryan Shealy to the bench. It could also cost DH Billy Butler a few at-bats.

A few notes on lesser Royals: Relievers Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez left in the Crisp and Jacobs trades, so the bullpen needed reinforcement. Kyle Farnsworth signed a two-year deal with KC, but he's only worth a look in holds leagues. … You can't invest in Willie Bloomquist, even if he gets a starting job. He's a severe liability in four categories. Bloomquist had just one extra-base hit in 192 plate appearances last season. … LHP Horacio Ramirez will compete for a spot in the starting rotation, which tells you something about the Royals chances in '09. Ramirez was effective in 24.1 innings of relief for KC in '08, but his last stint as a starter did not go well at all. He pitched 98 innings for the Mariners two seasons ago, and he finished with a 7.16 ERA and 1.85 WHIP.


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