Royals Acquire OF Norichika Aoki for LHP Will Smith
The Royals have traded left-handed pitcher Will Smith to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Norichika Aoki. Aoki hit .286/.356/.370 and in his two big league seasons is a lifetime .287/.357/.399 hitter. He’s played mostly right field in his career and rates very well defensively there, but he does have speed and could be a fit in center, though I don’t necessarily think that’s where the Royals will plan to play him. Aoki has 50 steals over the last two seasons, but has been caught 20 times. That’s not ideal. His power declined pretty significantly last season going from 51 extra base hits in 2012 to just 31 last season, so that’s something to look out for.
In Smith, the Royals traded a guy who was shifted to the bullpen last year and really excelled including one exhilarating outing against the Mariners when he seemed to strike out the whole Mariners team. The Royals view him as a reliever, though I do believe he could potentially start. Still, if he’s a reliever, trading a reliever for a guy with on base skills like Aoki possesses is a deal you have to make every day. It’s a similar thought to the Fowler trade, but with less upside in Aoki than Fowler. Smith posted an elite 11.6 K/9 ratio and walked less than two per nine innings, so he is a good arm out of the bullpen. I think this probably opens up a big league spot for Chris Dwyer, who could be very good out of the bullpen.
Aoki will make just under $2 million next season and will be a free agent following the year due to a stipulation in his contract. He can play every day as he has very little platoon split. He walks more against righties, but he gets more hits against lefties. In the end, his numbers against both hands are basically a wash.
I like this move in a vacuum because Aoki fills a skillset the Royals simply don’t have enough of, and that’s players who can actually get on base. My guess is he will slot at the top of the Royals lineup, if he’s still with the Royals by the time the season starts. I do think the Royals are still the favorites to land Carlos Beltran. Acquiring Aoki and keeping him wouldn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t sign Beltran, but there would have to be more roster moves than previously to make that happen. That said, roster moves are somewhat easy to make.
All in all, I really, really like this move. Smith is probably a number four starter at best and most likely slots as a reliever. Relievers are something Dayton Moore has had no issue finding, so I really like the idea of getting an everyday player for him and actually filling a need the Royals had. I could see it playing out with Aoki manning right field or center field every day and leading off with Beltran coming in to take over mostly designated hitter and trading Billy Butler to supplement talent on the team. There’s a lot of ifs left to make that happen, but that seems to me to be the direction the team is looking toward.
A big hat tip to @RoyalRevival who mentioned this trade last night on Twitter and seemed to be the only one with the inside scoop.
Follow me on Twitter @DBLesky
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