Apparently channeling his inner good GM, Dayton and the Royals have acquired RF Norichika Aoki from the Brewers in exchange for SP/RP Will Smith. The instant reaction from the Twitterverse is that this deal is good for the Royals. My instant reaction? The same. While the Royals had to give up several years of control over a cheap, young pitcher, the Royals had depth at the position and can replace Smith. This deal should position the Royals well for 2014 in RF offensively, defensively, and financially.
Aoki will be 32 in 2014, but it will be only his 3rd year in the MLB. He was a Japanese player who earned many accolades there. He is a contact hitter with about a 90% contact rate for his career; this is likely what attracted the Royals to him. For a guy with speed, Aoki’s baserunning is an issue. He had a negative baserunning value in 2013 and does get caught stealing a little too much, but some Brewers fans maintain that his outs on the bases are due to the Brewers’ manager, Ron Roenicke, calling risky plays. Hopefully, the Royals coaches can fix this issue to prevent him from giving away free outs. Aoki lacks power, but he is a tough out who should provide excellent on base skills (a career .355 OBP) to an offense that lacks on base skills.
Since the Royals’ strategy with pitching is to emphasize fly balls in a spacious outfield, each outfield defender must be good. Aoki’s Defense value on FanGraphs is negative, but this is mostly due to the positional adjustment FanGraphs introduces. By DRS, defensive runs saved, he rates as one of the better RF. He seems to be solid in every aspect of defense except his range, but the numbers may not match the eye test; defensive statistics are volatile and need about 3 years to become reliable. The scouting report on his defense seems to be that he is above average in all aspects of defense, so Aoki should help maintain the Royals stellar outfield defense.
There is speculation that although the Royals now have Aoki, they will still pursue Carlos Beltran. The idea, I suppose, is that Aoki could move over to CF and Beltran, if he were acquired, could still play RF/DH (pending a decision on Billy Butler). Beltran’s cost would be enormous and probably would necessitate a Butler trade to accommodate payroll, with which I do not agree at the moment. Another reason that acquiring Aoki would not prevent other moves is his cost. Aoki will be paid only about $2M in 2014, and he will become a free agent after. This is a low risk/high reward type of trade, and this is exactly the kind of trade Dayton Moore needed to make. Aoki will bring solid offense and solid defense at a very low cost; this is the kind of move that will help the Royals make a playoff push in 2014.