Norichika Aoki Rumors

Giants Sign Nori Aoki To One-Year Deal

JAN. 20: Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Aoki’s $5.5MM club option will become a mutual option if he reaches 550 plate appearances (Twitter link).

JAN. 19: The Giants and outfielder Nori Aoki have officially agreed to a one-year contract with an option for the 2016 season, as first reported by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links). In the club’s announcement, the option was described as a club option that can vest into a mutual option.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

Aoki, a client of CAA Sports, receives a $4.7MM guarantee plus performance bonuses, via Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter links). He’ll earn $4MM in 2015, and his 2016 option contains a $700K buyout, according to Heyman, who adds that the contract can max out at $12.5MM over two years. Shea tweets that Aoki’s option is valued at $5.5MM, adding that he can earn up to $1.5MM worth of incentives in each year of the deal.

Aoki gives the Giants additional outfield depth and should slot into their starting left field spot, shifting Gregor Blanco into a fourth outfield role, although the two do have relatively similar skill sets. The 33-year-old Aoki should be plenty familiar with the Giants, having received an up-close look at the club in what was an excellent, seven-game World Series between the Giants and Aoki’s former club, the Royals, in 2014.

In his lone season with Kansas City, Aoki batted .285/.349/.360 with 17 steals but just one home run. Aoki has consistently hit for a solid average (.288, .286 and .285) in three years with the Brewers and Royals since coming over from Japan, and his OBP has steadily floated between .349 and .356 — all solid marks. However, after hitting 10 homers as a rookie and eight in his sophomore campaign, Aoki’s home run swing went absent in 2014, which likely hurt his market considerably. Some of the drop in power may be attributable to moving from Miller Park to Kauffman Stadium, but a move to the pitcher-friendlt AT&T Park doesn’t figure to bolster his home run output much.

Nonetheless, Aoki is a consistent source of on-base percentage and solid defense, creating a rather low-risk deal for the Giants. Aoki has graded out well in right field over his career, posting a UZR/150 mark of +5.3 and +13 Defensive Runs Saved in the Majors. That will represent a substantial upgrade over the poor defense of the departed Mike Morse, although Aoki clearly comes with significantly less offensive upside than the slugging Morse.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Notes: Scherzer, Aoki, Giants, Olivera, Everth

The free agent market for Max Scherzer has been anything but traditional, writes MLB.com’s Mike Bauman. As Bauman notes, the dearth of clubs that have acknowledged interest in Scherzer is particularly peculiar, as is the fact that there have been little to no leaks of serious interest. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jim Bowden (Insider required) spoke to a number of GMs, assistant GMs, managers, players and agents trying to pin down Scherzer’s market. As Bowden writes, while he often came up empty, that doesn’t necessarily mean much, as Scherzer is an ownership-level decision, and not all owners don’t always keep the front office in the loop. Beyond that, many owners consider Scherzer’s exorbitant price tag a final option of sorts and will only relent once it becomes clear that a potentially more affordable alternative — e.g. a trade for Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto — is not possible. Bowden lists the Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Nationals, Marlins, Giants and Blue Jays as theoretical fits, noting that he doesn’t expect the latter two would make an offer. The Tigers are still the favorites in Bowden’s eyes, while multiple Yankees officials would “love” to have Scherzer (despite the club’s public and private denials). He adds that the Nationals could conceivably sign Scherzer if they move Zimmermann and/or Ian Desmond for younger pieces, knowing each has just one remaining year on his contract and has rebuffed the team’s previous efforts at working out a long-term deal.

Some more free agent notes from around the league…

  • In addition to the Braves and Orioles, the Giants are also a potential fit for outfielder Nori Aoki, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. To this point, the Giants have yet to address their left field hole and have had a largely quiet offseason — though not for lack of trying. The Giants made serious pursuits of both Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester, but after missing out on each have acquired Casey McGehee via trade and re-signed Jake Peavy.
  • Speaking of the Giants‘ quiet offseason, MLB.com’s Chris Haft points out that history has shown the team is capable of adding help even as late in the offseason as mid-January. As Haft points out, both Aubrey Huff and Bengie Molina were mid-January signs back in 2010. He opines that a reunion with Ryan Vogelsong — whom Haft notes very much wants to return to San Francisco — makes so much sense that it’s surprising it hasn’t happened at this point. Though there’s some understandable frustration from Giants fans, Haft notes, there’s plenty of time for an addition or two.
  • The Athletics will be among the clubs to watch Hector Olivera‘s upcoming showcase in the Dominican Republic, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who finds a matchup between the two sides very plausible. Adding Olivera to the fold would allow the team to play Ben Zobrist in the outfield, with Marcus Semien manning shortstop and Olivera at second. Olivera, 29, still needs clearance from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and Major League Baseball before he can sign.
  • Everth Cabrera was scheduled for a readiness hearing Wednesday of this week, but his attorney has requested a continuance until March 23 due to pending trial matters in another case, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. As such, Cabrera’s jury trial is now set for April 13 (depending on the outcome of the readiness hearing). Cabrera faces up to a year in jail time if he is convicted with a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. The delay in the hearing is particularly poor news for Cabrera, who had hoped to ink a big league deal at some point this offseason.
  • Lastly, a pair of minor free agent notes: Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets that the Twins never made an effort to re-sign Anthony Swarzak before he signed with Cleveland today, while MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets that the Tigers did make Andy Dirks an offer after he was non-tendered by Toronto. However, Detroit’s acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes led Dirks to return to the Blue Jays, where he felt he had a better opportunity to make the team and pick up more at-bats.

Cafardo On Shields, Zobrist, Uggla, Papelbon, Aoki

The return of Alex Rodriguez headlines the top ten baseball storylines in 2015, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. With the 39-year-old Rodriguez and his two degenerating hips returning after serving a 162-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Cafardo posits the best-case scenario for the Yankees would be if A-Rod cannot hold up physically or the team and/or MLB come up with more damaging material to keep him out of baseball for good. Also making Cafardo’s list, the start of Rob Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner and Pete Rose testing the waters of reinstatement in the wake of the retirement of Bud Selig, a staunch opponent of allowing the all-time hits leader back into the game.

In other tidbits from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:

  • It has been hard to gauge the market for James Shields because his negotiations have been private. However, a MLB source tells Cafardo the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Giants have had discussions or shown interest in the right-hander. Cafardo adds the Giants have cooled on Shields after re-signing Jake Peavy, but remain open-minded.
  • The Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs are seriously pursuing Ben Zobrist with the Rays‘ asking price being at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.
  • Dan Uggla is confident in returning to his former self after being diagnosed with oculomotor dysfunction (poor motion vision when moving the head or body), which was caused by being hit in the head by a pitch on two separate occasions. After a two-week exercise regimen, doctors have declared the second baseman’s motion vision normal. The Nationals, who signed Uggla to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite the day after Christmas, have prior experience in dealing with oculomotor dysfunction, as Denard Span suffered through it in 2013. The Orioles and Rangers also expressed interest in Uggla.
  • Despite his less-than-stellar reputation, Cafardo finds it hard to fathom a team would not trade for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Cafardo notes Papelbon has found a way to keep getting batters out with diminished velocity as evident by his 106 saves over the past three seasons, including 39 (with just four blown saves) for a bad Phillies team last year.
  • Clubs are only offering outfielder Nori Aoki two-year deals. The Orioles have definite interest in Aoki, who also has some appeal to the Giants.

 



Poll: Best Remaining Free Agent Position Player

A frantic November and December has left Norichika Aoki, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Colby Rasmus as arguably the best available free agent position players. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked the top 50 free agents earlier in the offseason, with Aoki coming in 40th, Cabrera 23rd, and Rasmus 20th. While the trio aren’t perfect substitutes since they fill different roles, that makes the question all the more interesting. Who is best?

Aoki is the elder statesman of the group – he’ll soon turn 33. However, his skill set is easily leveraged, and he’s a good fit as a leadoff hitter. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth provided a free agent profile in November, highlighting Aoki’s strong batting average, on base percentage, and above average defense. Of course, his game comes with flaws including a complete lack of power. Most clubs shy away from corner outfielders who don’t hit for power, and Aoki only managed one home run for the Royals in 2014. It’s worth noting that he did hit 10 and eight home runs in two seasons with the Brewers. Miller Park is home run friendly whereas Kauffman Stadium suppresses home runs. Perhaps Aoki just needs an offensive environment similar to Milwaukee to fully flourish. Wilmoth pegged Aoki for a two-year, $16MM deal, while Aoki is said to be looking for a three-year contract.

Cabrera is different than the others featured here since he’s a middle infielder. Seemingly connected with every club in need of infield help, the shortstop has been discussed mainly as a second or third baseman. Defensive metrics have rated him as consistently below average over the last six seasons, which is why clubs are hesitant to consider the 29-year-old as a shortstop. Since breaking out offensively in 2011, Cabrera has been roughly league average with the bat. Teams could look at him as a possible second hitter, although he doesn’t reach base often enough to make an ideal fit. MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted a three-year, $27MM contract for Cabrera thanks to his perceived versatility, dearth of other utility infielders, and relative youth.

Speaking of youth, Rasmus is entering 2015 as a 28-year-old. His combination of youth and power should make him attractive to clubs in need of an outfielder, although there are a couple red flags. In 2014, the Blue Jays moved Rasmus to the bench down the stretch as they evaluated options for 2015. He strikes out frequently, including a 33% strikeout rate last season. The result is a low average and on base percentage. A .224 ISO over the past two campaigns allowed him to post above average offense. The Blue Jays used Rasmus exclusively as a center fielder where defensive metrics ranged from 15 runs above average in 2013 to 15 runs below average in 2014. A move to a corner outfield position could help level out the defense. The Orioles appear to be the most closely tied to Rasmus presently. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd foresees a one-year, $12MM deal while noting the challenge of predicting Rasmus’ market.

The three offer value in different ways. Aoki is a high floor, low ceiling, leadoff hitter, but he’s also the oldest of the bunch. Cabrera is under 30, features a steady bat, and plays the infield. Rasmus is the youngest, was once a top prospect, and still shows flashes of the talent that led to the prospect hype. Two other free agents remain on Dierkes top 50 list – Stephen Drew (42nd) and Emilio Bonifacio (43rd). So here’s the question:

 

 


AL Central Notes: Porcello, Scherzer, Melky, Twins

The Tigers didn’t trade Rick Porcello to the Red Sox due to a lack of progress in extension talks, Porcello’s agent Jim Murray tells FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi.  The two sides “briefly discussed” extending Porcello’s contract beyond the 2015 season, Murray said, “but it was more in the context of something both parties may or may not talk about in the future.”  Here’s some more from around the AL Central…

  • Though Scott Boras has openly said the Tigers won’t get a chance to match an opposing team’s final offer for Max Scherzer, an industry source tells MLB.com’s Jason Beck that the agent will indeed give Tigers owner Mike Ilitch a chance to match “at least as a professional courtesy.”  The good relationship between Boras and Ilitch has paved the way for several Boras clients to come to Detroit, perhaps most notably Prince Fielder in the 2011-12 offseason.
  • Also from Beck, he passes along comments from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski reiterating that nothing has changed between Detroit and Scherzer.  “I guess anything can happen but we’re not in active pursuit at this time. We’re happy with our starting pitching,” Dombrowski said.  “Again, we love him, but as I said at the time, we were the sole club that could sign him last spring. It didn’t work. I don’t think our odds improve with 29 other clubs that could potentially try to sign him.”
  • Melky Cabrera is still the Royals‘ top choice to fill their hole in the outfield, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.  If Cabrera can’t be signed, K.C. has such options as Nori Aoki, Colby Rasmus or Alex Rios as fallback options.
  • The vesting option on Ervin Santana‘s four-year contract with the Twins will require more than just 200 IP from the righty in 2018 to guarantee his 2019 season, a source tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link).
  • The Twins haven’t discussed extensions with Phil Hughes, Brian Dozier or Trevor Plouffe yet this offseason, Mike Berardino reports (via Twitter).  Berardino suggests that talks could wait until January.  The three players have very different contract situations — Dozier isn’t arbitration-eligible until next winter, Plouffe is projected to earn $4.3MM in his second of four arb years as a Super Two player and Hughes still has two seasons remaining on the three-year, $24MM deal he signed last winter.  Of the three, Hughes would clearly be the most expensive to extend given his tremendous 2014 campaign.

Orioles Talking With Nori Aoki, Colby Rasmus

3:18pm: Baltimore’s interest in Aoki is “lukewarm,” Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports.

10:52am: As the Orioles look to fill in the holes left by departing free agents, they have reached out to the representatives of free agent outfielders Nori Aoki and Colby Rasmus, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. It does not appear that Baltimore is heavily engaged with Melky Cabrera at present, Heyman adds.

Aoki and Rasmus join the previously-reported Delmon Young as possible bats being targeted by the O’s. Both players are bounceback candidates to an extent, though their profiles are near opposites. The veteran Aoki is a high-OBP, low-strikeout option who is nearing 33 years of age, while the 28-year-old Rasmus brings tantalizing power upside but a troubling strikeout rate, some injury history, and much greater overall variability.


Quick Hits: McClellan, Aoki, Young, Robertson

Former Cardinals and Rangers reliever Kyle McClellan has officially announced his retirement.  In a message on his Facebook page, McClellan explained that he was told that his shoulder simply hadn’t recovered well enough following surgery, so he decided to hang up his glove after six Major League seasons.  McClellan posted a 3.79 ERA over 387 1/3 career innings from 2008-13, spending five seasons with St. Louis (winning a World Series ring in 2011) and one in Texas.  We at MLBTR wish McClellan all the best in his retirement and congratulations on a nice career.

Here’s some news from around the baseball world…

  • The Orioles have “limited” interest in Nori Aoki, a source tells MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko.  With the O’s linked to such bigger-name free agent and trade targets as Melky Cabrera, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, it’s safe to presume that Aoki could be more of a backup plan for the Orioles if they can’t land any of those other outfielders.
  • The Mariners‘ acquisition of J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays probably ends any chance of Chris Young returning to Seattle’s rotation, MLB.com’s Greg Johns writes as part of a reader mailbag.
  • An increasing number of agents are privately saying that they would’ve advised David Robertson to accept the Yankees’ qualifying offer, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets.  I can’t say I agree with the agents’ opinions, since it’s not like the draft pick compensation tied to Robertson via the QO has hurt his market; the closer has reportedly already received a three-year, $39MM offer and several executives think he’ll find a deal in the four-year, $50MM range.
  • Florida high schooler Brendan Rodgers holds the #1 spot on MLB.com’s rankings of the top 50 2015 draft prospects, MLB.com’s Jim Callis writes.  Rodgers, a shortstop, heads a class that still contains a lot of question marks, according to one AL scouting executive.  “It’s just wide open right now, especially at the top.  There are some nice players, but there’s a lot of gray area. There are just no elite guys who completely stand out. There’s not as much upside at the top as the past few drafts,” the executive said.
  • Former big leaguer Rico Brogna is now working as the Angels‘ quality control coach, somewhat of a troubleshooting position he tells Fangraphs’ David Laurila combines both traditional scouting analysis with advanced metrics to give his team a complete overview of a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Will Middlebrooks doesn’t have an obvious role on the 2015 Red Sox roster, but the third baseman tells Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald that he’s working to get healthy and wants to stay with the Sox.  “I understand the moves they had to make,” Middlebrooks said.  “For the organization we are, we have to win next year. Everyone knows that. They had to make some moves. I was hurt, been hurt a lot. You can’t rely on that.”

NL Central Notes: Zimmermann, Cards, Miller

A rumored deal of Jordan Zimmermann to the Cubs is reportedly not happening, which makes sense to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal since such a trade wouldn’t really be a fit for either the Cubs or the Nationals.  The Cubs are likely to address their pitching need by either signing a top free agent arm or trading one of their infield prospects for a controllable younger arm.  Dealing for Zimmermann would the Cubs to both give up prospects and spend big, Rosenthal notes, since Chicago would obviously want to sign the righty to a long-term extension.

Here’s some more from around the NL Central…

  • The Cardinals are wary of making commitments that will result in future roadblocks to upcoming younger players, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  GM John Mozeliak notes that the team feels it could be “exposed” at first base or the corner outfield if it does not get the performances it hopes for, and is interested in left-handed relief help and a utility infielder.
  • In fact, the Cardinals met with representatives for Andrew Miller on Tuesday, Goold tweets. The meeting was characterized as exploratory in nature, though the fit is obvious.
  • Both the Cardinals and Reds had interest in Michael Cuddyer before he signed with the Mets, Goold reports in a separate piece.
  • Though the Reds are interested in Nori Aoki and Michael Morse, that is not an exclusive list, GM Walt Jocketty tells C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). The club’s top priority is adding offense, and it is considering trade scenarios in addition to looking at the free agent market.

Nori Aoki Seeking Three-Year Deal

Free agent outfielder Nori Aoki is looking for a three-year deal, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). He’s currently drawing interest from both the Reds and the Royals, although Kansas City at the moment is said to be more interested in Torii Hunter, Heyman adds.

Aoki batted .285/.349/.360 in his lone season with the Royals and played a key role from a defensive standpoint as the team made its way to the World Series. However, he’s seen a precipitous drop in his power since coming to the Majors. After hitting 10 homers as a rookie with the Brewers in 2012, he hit eight in 2013 and just one in 2014. His isolated power dropped from .144 in 2012 to .084 in 2013 and .075 in 2014, although a portion of the most recent dip could at least be attributed to moving to the spacious Kauffman Stadium.

The Reds are in need of a left fielder and are said to also be targeting Mike Morse, while Kansas City has been linked to a reunion with Aoki on more than one occasion. However, there wouldn’t be room for both Hunter and Aoki in K.C., so it seems that for the time being, Aoki is on the back burner as GM Dayton Moore looks to add some punch to his lineup in the form of the veteran Hunter.

MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently profiled the 32-year-old Aoki and suggested that he could land something in the range of two-year, $16MM contract.


Free Agent Profile: Nori Aoki

Nori Aoki‘s one season with the Royals was the franchise’s best in recent history, and he was one of eight players who formed a suffocating defense that was crucial to the team’s run to the playoffs. Now, though, the CAA client is a free agent, and it’s unclear what the market might hold for a 32-year-old corner outfielder with minimal power.

Pros/Strengths

Aoki’s approach at the plate has resulted in excellent and consistent batting averages and OBPs. He’s batted .288, .286 and .285 in his three seasons in the big leagues, with OBPs of .355, .356 and .349. The 2014 AL league average OBP was .316, so Aoki was way ahead of the pack in that regard, and that was no accident — Aoki walks about as often as he strikes out, with 141 career strikeouts and 144 career walks. He hits both righties and lefties well (he batted .363/.428/.435 against lefties this season, which is noteworthy even though it’s unsustainable) and does not need to be platooned.

USATSI_8128198_154513410_lowresLike most Royals, Aoki is above average defensively for his position — he posted a 5.9 UZR in 2014 and is 8.2 runs above average in his three-year big league career. His speed hasn’t translated to great value on the bases, but it’s served him well defensively. Aoki has also been very durable, with a three-week stint on the disabled list with a groin strain in 2014 as the only significant absence since he arrived in the US.

Aoki has been at least a two-win player in two of his three seasons in the league, and if he can maintain his high on-base percentage, his secondary skills are good enough to hit that threshold. He also did not receive a qualifying offer, so the team that signs him won’t have to give up a draft pick.

Weaknesses/Cons

In 2012, his first season in the US, Aoki hit ten home runs and 51 overall extra-base hits, good power numbers for a table-setter. In the last two years, however, that power has vanished — Aoki had eight homers and 31 extra-base hits in 2013, and just one homer and 29 extra-base hits in 2014.

Aoki’s fly ball percentage has decreased from 27.7% in 2012 to 17.1% in 2014, and the average distance of those fly balls has decreased from about 280 feet in 2012 to 249 feet in 2014, ahead of only Donovan Solano, Elvis Andrus and Emilio Bonifacio on Baseball Heat Maps’ Flyball Leaderboard. Meanwhile, Aoki this year hit ground balls at a 61.9% rate this season, the second highest percentage among qualified hitters throughout MLB, behind Ben Revere and just ahead of an ancient Derek Jeter. In other words, unless there’s something about Aoki that hasn’t been revealed to us, his loss of power doesn’t appear to be a fluke.

A corner outfielder doesn’t need great power to be productive, but Aoki would lose value quickly if any of his other skills were to slip. His lack of power also limits his upside. Aoki’s Isolated Power last year was .075. Of the 13 qualified batters last season with Isolated Power numbers of below .090, only two — Revere and Dee Gordon — produced above average offensive value overall, according to Fangraphs.

Personal

Aoki, of course, starred for eight years with the Yakult Swallows in Japan before arriving in the United States. He was born in Hyuga, a small coastal city in Southern Japan, and his parents still reside there. Aoki and his wife, Sachi, have two young children.

Aoki’s interpreter, Kosuke Inaji, has worked with him in both Milwaukee and Kansas City and is “very much an extension of him,” Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star writes. “He’s like our fifth outfielder,” Carlos Gomez said of Inaji when he and Aoki were with the Brewers.

Aoki wins plenty of praise as a teammate. “He had a great personality,” says former manager Ron Roenicke. “He fit in really well with the guys. We had fun with him. But he worked as hard as you could work. You can’t put more effort into the job than he did.”

Market

There aren’t many good position players available this offseason, but there are a fair number of outfielders, including Melky Cabrera, Yasmany Tomas, Colby Rasmus, Nick Markakis, Alex Rios and Torii Hunter. It’s possible Cabrera, in particular, might have to sign before the rest of the market develops. The Royals appear likely to have interest in retaining Aoki, and he could also fit in with the Reds, Twins, Mets, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers, Giants or Tigers. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe noted this week that the White Sox could be a possibility as well.

Aoki still profiles as a starter, but it’s unclear what his next team might be getting. His on-base ability is valuable, but the disappearance of his power is worrisome.

Expected Contract

A legitimate on-base threat is hard to find, and at his age (33 in January), Aoki could remain productive for at least two more years. He also has experience at all three outfield positions and could probably slide into a fourth outfielder role if his offense slips.

For all his drawbacks, Aoki was obviously a bargain throughout his previous contract, which paid him just $4.95MM total for the 2012 through 2014 seasons. This time around, he should be able to find a two-year contract at a significantly higher annual salary. He might end up being able to land a two-year, $16MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.