The Kansas City Royals completed a trade on Thursday that almost everybody here at Royals Review enjoyed, sending pitcher Will Smith for outfielder Norichika Aoki. It's rare that Dayton Moore makes a move that is supported almost universally amongst us critical spirits, so we should give credit when it is due. The Aoki trade makes sense for a number of reasons:
- The Royals have had a quality leadoff hitter the past two seasons in Alex Gordon, but never seemed like they enjoyed using him in the leadoff role. Aoki's career .355 OBP with above-average speed but below-average power makes him a solid candidate to fill that role, which would allow Gordon to move elsewhere.
Moore suggested to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star that the team views Gordon as a "middle of the order" type of bat, which sounds like fifth to me with Eric Hosmer hitting third and Billy Butler hitting fourth. That still leaves the Royals without a solid No. 2 hitter; Gordon could hit second, but having three lefties hit in a row isn't ideal. The team could have Butler (possible) or Salvador Perez (unlikely, but would be awesome) hit third if Gordon hit second to break up the lefties, but I think the Royals want to put Hosmer third, and will attempt to make the lineup work around him.
Either way, the Royals were lacking a hitter with a high enough OBP to put in the top of the lineup, and just added a hitter who they can comfortably slot in.
- Aoki should make a perfect platoon partner with Justin Maxwell in right field if the Royals so choose. Aoki doesn't have a terrible platoon split, but Maxwell hits lefties well and could spell Aoki when lefties start or pinch-hit off the bench.
David Lough could have also platooned with Maxwell, but Aoki appears to be a better player and a much safer bet. I realize Lough posted a higher fWAR than Aoki in 2013, but Aoki has a better track record and stronger offensive numbers. Most of Lough's value was tied up in his exceptional defense, which can be unreliable from season-to-season.
Also, rWAR has credited Aoki with at least three wins the past two seasons and more wins than Lough last season. Aoki is not just an older version of Lough, he should contribute at a higher level than the incumbent.
- The Aoki trade will hopefully keep the Royals from signing Carlos Beltran, or at the very least keep Beltran from seeing consistent playing time in right if the Royals do sign him. Although it would be fun to see Beltran in a Royals uniform again, signing him to play right field didn't make a lot of sense.
The Royals have two pitchers in Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas who will need a strong outfield defense behind them to pitch anywhere near the level the Royals hope they will. Beltran isn't a strong defender anymore, while Aoki/Maxwell should at least be average, probably above-average. The team can still bring in Jarrod Dyson or Lough late in games to improve the defense, depending on who is still with the team come spring training (my Twix bar is don Dyson).
You can even make a strong case that Aoki has been a better player than Beltran the past two seasons, and will likely be the better player in 2014. Beltran has more fWAR than Aoki since 2012, but Aoki has accumulated more rWAR. Once you factor in that Beltran will be 37 next year while Aoki will be 32, it's easy to envision Aoki outperforming Beltran next season.
I've seen, and will likely continue to see crazy scenarios involving Butler getting traded to the Seattle Mariners for Nick Franklin with Beltran at DH, or Aoki playing center with Beltran in right. Both ideas seem far-fetched and ill-advised too me, although I'm sure that won't stop people from concocting them.
- Finally, Moore finally traded from a position of strength in the bullpen to help upgrade a position of need. Smith could be serviceable in the Brewers rotation, but seems likely to end up as a bullpen piece. I can easily envision him as a useful bullpen piece that can miss bats, which is especially valuable since he is left-handed.
That being said, Kansas City has plenty of bullpen pieces who can miss bats, and if Smith would have ended up in the rotation during 2014, something had probably gone terribly wrong. Smith's production should be fairly easy to replace.
This trade isn't the most exciting deal and it doesn't make the Royals strong playoff contenders, but the acquisition of Aoki should help the team win more games in 2014. If Moore can add a second baseman another starter this intelligently, then we may actually have a legitimate reason for excitement heading into next season.