After nearly three months of the 2014 season, the December 2013 Nori Aoki-Will Smith trade between the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals looks like a brilliant move for Brewers GM Doug Melvin. Smith has been a crucial part of the Brewers bullpen, but the lineup has shown a lingering vacancy in terms of a true leadoff hitter, at least when Rickie Weeks is in that spot. Aoki is missed, but the move looks like a good one for Milwaukee for team control of Smith into the future, if nothing else.
I thought I would check in with Josh Duggan (follow him on Twitter), who contributes to Royals Review and MLB Daily Dish on the SB Nation platform, for his thoughts about the Aoki-Smith swap and how things are working out for the Royals.
Nick: What was your initial reaction to the trade? Is your feeling now that the Brewers got the better end?
Josh: Initially, I liked it for the Royals. Smith was a reliever, and that seems to be the one thing the Royals have had little trouble developing. So from the standpoint that they were trading a commodity with limited value for what I figured would be a 2.0 WAR player, it was hard to complain, even if they were cost-controlled years for Smith. After actually watching Aoki play, I no longer feel that way.
Nick: Aoki’s batting average and OBP are down a bit from his levels with the Brewers, but it’s still early in the season and overall his numbers look OK. How has he set the table for Royals hitters so far?
Josh: Honestly, he’s been pretty abysmal. His slash-line is down across the board. He’s sporting a sub-.300 wOBA and an 84 wRC+, so he’s been 16 percent below average offensively, which is neither acceptable for a corner outfielder nor a leadoff hitter. Of course, it’s not his fault that Ned Yost continues to pencil him in at leadoff only to get on base at a sub-Alcides Escobar clip.
Nick: With an ERA at 1.25 entering Monday, Smith has been nearly lights out for the Brewers, pitching important innings. How badly could the Royals use a guy like Smith right now, or is their bullpen doing well?
Josh: The loss of Smith isn’t extreme. The Royals have three of the game’s best relievers in Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera, so Smith would likely just be a LOOGY as the bullpen is constructed. There’s value there, of course, and it’s hard to say that they wouldn’t be better if they’d simply kept Smith and gone with a Jarrod Dyson/Justin Maxwell platoon with the third OF spot, but the bullpen is hardly scuffling.
Nick: How did you become a Royals fan initially, and what are your expectations for the rest of the year? The Royals just got off a ten-game winning streak and look like they may be gearing up for a real run this summer.
Josh: My dad is from Kansas City, and when I was a kid, their dynasty was just winding down. Bo Jackson, George Brett, and Bret Saberhagen made it easy to like them growing up. I think the Tigers are a better team on paper. Unless Scherzer and Verlander have actually imploded, it’s hard to imagine a scenario playing out in which the Royals outlast Detroit in the Central. It’s going to be hard for them to beat out the second- and third-best teams in the other divisions for the Wild Card. I’m expecting about 84 wins and another non-playoff campaign. Hopefully they surprise me.
Nick: Aoki was a fan favorite in Milwaukee for his hustle and ability to make things happen. How has he been received in Kansas City?
Josh: I can’t speak for the entire fan base, but there is definitely a loud if possibly small contingent who’d like him replaced in the starting line-up. They’re right to want him out. His defense is shaky at best, and he’s been hitting like a #9 hitter all season. His 0.9 fWAR is too kind, and a byproduct of UZR liking him a whole lot more than DRS does. I honestly think his -0.4 rWAR is indicative of the level of play he’s put forth thus far. He’s sub-replacement level and needs to go to the DL for his groin injury. Hopefully for a long time.
Well there you have it…Aoki isn’t getting it done in Kansas City, so far. 2013 saw Aoki’s numbers erode from a productive 2012 with Milwaukee, and 2014 has followed that trend. The trade is not shaping up the way Royals fans and the KC front office would have hoped, though they have the bullpen depth to cover the loss of Smith for the time being.
Though he’s now 32 years old, one would think Aoki has a few good years left in him. As a Brewers fan who has visited KC numerous times and gone to baseball games there at Kauffman Stadium (great ballpark), I’m pulling for Aoki so that he can show the fans there the capable player we saw in 2012.
The Royals, like the pre-2008 Brewers, have been excluded from MLB’s postseason for a long, long time. They haven’t been to the dance since 1985, nearly 30 years ago, when they beat the dreaded in-state rival St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in a controversial World Series. They deserve another shot at glory, so here’s to the Royals in their quest to topple Detroit and the rest of the AL Central. Cheers.
Thanks again to Josh Duggan (Twitter: @oldmanduggan) for providing a Royals fan perspective on Aoki and Will Smith. Looks like Doug Melvin chose wisely as far as the Brewers are concerned, though Aoki wouldn’t look too bad right now as a fourth outfielder.
The Royals welcome a mutual friend back to Kansas City Monday night as Zack Greinke takes on his former club.