Slow news/rumor day on Wednesday, but after the zaniness of Tuesday, what did you expect? Maybe Thursday will be better. Yet the relative calm of Wednesday was broken by Royal Revival in a series of Tweets:
Again source is legitimate source, but he is our only source. W. Smith for Aoki pending physicals. Take it or leave it just passing it along— Royal Revival (@RoyalRevival) December 5, 2013
The Royals obviously have bullpen depth and we've been urging (or hoping) that Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust would find a way to turn that surplus into other useful parts. While dealing Will Smith for Norichika Aoki isn't some kind of blockbuster, it is interesting to muse about how adding Aoki would affect the Royals.
Offensively, Aoki is a contact-making machine. He doesn't walk, but he doesn't strike out, either. Aoki was one of the toughest hitters in baseball to strikeout last year, which is probably why he's on the Royals radar. This seems to be a common thread among players Moore and his scouts covet. You have to be able to put the bat on the ball. However, last year Aoki had an ISO of .084 with just 31 extra base hits in 597 plate appearances. Again, this is a typical Royals offensive player. Finally, in his two major league seasons, Aoki has posted OBPs of .355 in 2012 and .356 in 2013. In other words, he got on base at a better rate than any Royal not named Billy Butler.
Defensively, Aoki has played some center, but he's primarily a right fielder. He has a 4.2 UZR/150 in his two seasons in Milwaukee and The Fielding Bible has him as saving 13 runs last year in right. That was the fifth best total in baseball. Again, the Royals seem to be (finally) emphasizing defense. Aoki is among the best at fielding his position.
Aoki is due to make around $2 million next year in what will be the final year of his contract. I say "around" $2 million because his salary is increased according to bonuses he earned in 2012 for hitting markers for playing time. For a player who has finished with fWAR of 2.5 in 2012 and 1.7 in 2013, this makes him quite a bargain.
But does he fit on this team? Certainly, the Royals need guys who can get on base. You'd have to assume if Aoki is wearing Royal blue, he's hitting at the top of the order. I suppose he could hit second behind Gordon, but Ned Yost would use his "Proven" leadoff hitter. In his two seasons, Aoki has swiped 50 bags in 70 attempts. A 71 percent success rate isn't really good, but that won't deter the Royals. (Fifty steals! Five-oh!) He doesn't strike me as a good base runner. He made nine outs on the bases (not counting pick offs and caught stealings) which is a lot. Six of those outs were made at home. I don't watch enough Brewer games to know if that's Aoki being foolish on the bases or if their third base coach was blind. The bottom line is only seven other players in the NL made more outs on the bases than Aoki.
Aoki hits left-handed, but doesn't suffer from an extreme platoon split. The Royals have the right-handed hitting Justin Maxwell on the roster who does have a platoon split, but hits for more power. It's possible the Royals are coming to their senses on Carlos Beltran and are looking at the possibility of a platoon in right. I don't know... that kind of platoon doesn't make sense. Although Aoki or Maxwell would both be nice options on the bench late in games as well. Of course, this being the Royals, they could decide to sign a Beltran and stick Aoki in center. They tend to move guys who are strong at one position to another position where they are weaker. One step forward, two steps back kind of thing.
Personally, I like Aoki for his OBP and defense. And for what he's going to get paid in 2014. He represents an upgrade at a minimal cost. The Royals need power, but if they can get a bounce back season from Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, a full quality year from Eric Hosmer and the continued solid contribution from Salvador Perez, (Heard this: Everyone is going to improve next year. Everyone.) Aoki could be quite the table setter for this lineup. Steamer projects Aoki at .289/.355/.397 and a 1.8 fWAR.
While I enjoyed watching Smith pitch out of the bullpen, he's exactly the kind of arm Moore needs to flip for a useful full-time player. That he could potentially secure a leadoff hitter for the lefty would be something of a coup. I'm torn on this, though because of the singles Aoki would bring to the lineup. OBP is life and all that, but the Royals desperately need someone to break them from this "station to station" mode. Still, for a fungible bullpen arm you could do worse than Aoki.
What say you, community?