Earlier today, the Kansas City Royals extracted Norichika Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for left handed reliever Will Smith.
I guess Smith will no longer be a Man in Blue, huh? No, wait, wait, I can do better. I guess Smith will no longer be in the Wild, Wild West, but will now be an Enemy of the State in Kansas City. There we go, nailed it.
In Aoki, the Royals get an attractively priced ($2 million next year), right fielder with plus defense (3.2 UZR, +13 DRS), who draws walks, hits for contact, and has some gap power. Over the last two years, the outfielder hit .287/.355/.399 with 18 HR and 50 steals. Among Royals with at least 700 PA over the last two seasons (there’s only 7 of them), Aoki would rank 3rd in average, 2nd in on-base percentage, 5th in slugging, and 2nd in stolen bases. He’s like the second coming of David DeJesus!
Point is, Aoki’s broad range of skills, even though he lacks one truly great tool, makes him an upgrade over many in-house options unless Justin Maxwell’s .857 OPS in 35 games with the Royals represents his true talent level. Even better, Aoki’s top comparables on Baseball-Reference are names like Kiddo Davis, Buzz Boyle, Bill Hassamaer, and Moose McCormick. Those are throwback names. Those are baseball names. That’s got to make Royals fans feel good.
The downside for the Royals is that Aoki will be a free agent next season, but with James Shields on his way out the door, Billy Butler on a $12.5 million team option for 2015, and Eric Hosmer set to start earning big money through arbitration, this next year may be the Royals best chance at winning. Which, given the state of their roster and the strength in Detroit and Cleveland, is damning with faint praise.
Hopefully this doesn’t mean the end the Royals pursuit of Carlos Beltran who would be the other middle of the order bat the team needs, especially if Mike Moustakas (career line of .233/.287/.364) never does put it all together.
As for Will Smith, (Please use your favorite “Fresh Prince no longer a Royal” pun here), it’s always tough to give up on young pitching, especially one with a such a live arm. After being moved into the bullpen last season, Smith struck out 11.61 batters per nine, walking only 1.81. But bullpen arms are fleeting and end of game relievers can be cobbled together. Just look at the Pirates and their 2nd best bullpen in baseball constructed with castoffs and converted starters.
The Brewers could look to use Smith as a shutdown reliever, or at the age of 24, try him in the back in the rotation, hoping his 5.32 ERA and low strikeout totals in sixteen 2012 starts were merely the symptom of a 22-year-old pitcher adjusting to the league rather than one whose stuff is overmatched when making multiple trips through the lineup.
The trade does allow Milwaukee to move Ryan Braun to right field and open up a position for Khris Davis who crushed the ball in his first taste of the majors last year to the tune of .279/.353/.596 with 11 HR in only 153 PA.
Scouts have not been fans of Davis in the past, his name not among Baseball America’s top 10 Brewers prospects last season, so it will be interesting to see if Davis proves to be the exception or becomes another power hitter who feasts on fastballs early, but soon struggling as pitchers adapt to him.
At the very least, the Brewers could make a little money marketing some Chris Davis merchandise to confused and uninformed Brewers fans.
The Royals got a piece they need in hopes of competing in the AL Central next year without giving up too much, while the Brewers hope Smith can be a lottery ticket as they enter the open auditions phase of their rebuilding plan. It’s not a sexy move, but it’s a smart ploy from both Midwest teams looking to achieve different things.