Aoki trade a win for both Brewers and Royals
So much for some American League club getting lucky and landing a big-time bat who had seemed buried.
Khris Davis, the one good thing that happened to the Brewers in 2013, isn't going anywhere. He'll stay in the lineup when Ryan Braun returns at the start of the season, most likely forcing Braun to move from left field to right field.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin just traded arguably the best value in the Major Leagues, Norichika Aoki, to the Royals to allow manager Ron Roenicke to flank Carlos Gomez with Braun and Davis, who emerged as an impact bat when he stepped in during Braun's 65-game suspension. Those three guys are perfect fits for Miller Park, giving the Brew Crew one of the most productive outfields in the Majors.
But Aoki is a highly useful outfielder too. It speaks to his ability to help a team reach the playoffs that the Royals gave up talented left-hander Will Smith to get Aoki, as they will only have him under control for the 2014 season. If Aoki continues to get on bases at his .355 career clip, the former two-time Central Division batting champion will be a major addition for Kansas City, which was willing to overlook the early out in the contract he signed when he jumped from Japan to Milwaukee two years ago.
This is a very good trade for both teams -- one built around the different priorities for each. The Royals are all in to improve on their 86-76 season in 2013 -- and in fact continue to pursue Carlos Beltran, even after trading for Aoki. The Brewers are trying to get back on their feet after the two-season descent that has followed Prince Fielder's departure.
Aoki seems like a very good addition for a team that can't afford to make a play for Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. Aoki's .287 career batting average essentially matches Choo's (.288). There are major differences after that, of course -- he doesn't walk as much or deliver as many extra-base hits -- but the upside is that he'll play all of the 2014 season for $1.95 million, a figure that Choo will probably exceed before his May 1 check.
Financial implications aside, Aoki should be a huge upgrade in right field for Kansas City. The position was one of two black holes for the Royals last season, second base being the other. Aoki figures to allow manager Ned Yost to drop Alex Gordon into the middle of the lineup, alongside Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer, whose strong second half (.323/.379/.473) has restored his standing.
There's speculation that Butler could be traded if the Royals land Beltran. Justin Maxwell, acquired from the Astros in midseason, compiled an .857 OPS in his 35 games with Kansas City. Royals GM Dayton Moore could use the payroll flexibility to add to an already strong rotation, ideally re-signing Ervin Santana, if that ship hasn't sailed.
Had Braun not been hit with a PED suspension, this deal might not have been made. Davis, 25, had shown some eye-popping power in bursts in the Minor Leagues, but there were always questions about how his bat would play in the big leagues.
It turns out Davis was just fine, drawing enough walks to offset his high strikeout rate. He was a little bit of a liability in the outfield -- which is why it is Braun who will probably join Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez in making a position change next spring -- but his athleticism was a plus on the bases.
Whichever way the Brewers go with Braun and Davis, they'll need Gomez to cover ground in both directions. But that's a minor detail given the need to score runs, and with Davis in the lineup, there is less need for Braun to hit the ground running (although he is going to want to be an April All-Star to help his own peace of mind and quiet fans).
Smith could be a big piece for the Brewers. He emerged as a strong left-handed setup man in the second half of 2013, holding left-handed hitters to a .157 average and supplanting Tim Collins in getting leads to Greg Holland, but the Brewers hope he can grab a spot in their starting rotation.
Milwaukee held an audition for starting pitchers throughout last season, without anyone cementing themselves in the spots behind Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse, and all the long-term candidates are right-handers. The Brewers are thus thrilled to have Smith, whom they have under control for five seasons.
To get such a commodity for a 31-year-old Aoki shows just how smart they were to pay attention when the Yakult Swallows posted Aoki. The Brewers won his rights with a bid of only $2.5 million and signed him for pennies (he will earn only $4.4 million in his first three seasons). Aoki could be a big name on the free-agent market next winter, especially if he helps the Royals end their 28-year playoff drought.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.