Norichika Aoki Rumors

AL Central Notes: Royals, Aoki, Butler, Lovullo, Tigers

Though the Royals are coming off their best season in nearly three decades, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the team will soon need to turn its focus to some difficult offseason decisions. Industry expectations, according to Martino, are that the Royals will at least listen to trade offers for its more expensive players — including Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — if other teams come calling this winter. Gordon’s case is the most pressing, as he’s only controlled through 2015 at $12.5MM before he has a $12.5MM player option. Gordon has publicly stated that he plans to exercise that option, though it’d be a surprise, to say the least, considering he could be in line for a much more sizable long-term commitment next offseason if he turns it down. Martino also notes that the Royals will have interest in re-signing Nori Aoki this offseason. From my vantage point, the team needn’t feel pressure to move any of the three previously mentioned players, though I’ll cover that at greater length in the upcoming Royals Offseason Outlook.

For the time being, here’s more on the AL Champs and the rest of their division…

  • The Royals are expected to decline their $12.5MM option on designated hitter Billy Butler in favor of a $1MM buyout, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The move isn’t exactly unexpected after the down season he had at the plate. However, Heyman adds that the team may look to pursue Torii Hunter, as they did seven years ago, in the event that Aoki signs elsewhere as a free agent. The Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough also hears that Butler’s option is likely to be declined.
  • The Twins‘ front office flew out to Torey Lovullo’s home in California to conduct their second interview with him on Monday this week, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, but there’s still been no decision reached as to who will be the team’s next manager. Lovullo and Paul Molitor are believed to be the favorites.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski spoke candidly to reporters, including Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Press, about the team’s lack of financial flexibility this offseason. Said Dombrowski: “We have the most generous owner in baseball you could possibly have in sports. But we’re in a situation where $200 million payrolls aren’t what is common here. … It’s a situation where we’re really in a spot that if you’re going to have four starters being paid and you’re going to have a couple superstars in the middle of your lineup, that means there’s not as much availability to do some other things. And you have to determine what you’re going to do.”

Brewers Notes: Aoki, Melvin, Loney, First Base

The trade of Norichika Aoki to the Royals for southpaw Will Smith was "was coaxed primarily by Aoki's agent to assure more playing time," Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes.  Khris Davis' impressive rookie season put him in line for a starting job in 2014, and with Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez locked into the other two starting outfield spots, Aoki was looking at a reduced role with the Brewers next season.

Here's some more Brewers news from Haudricourt's chat with Brewers GM Doug Melvin…

  • Melvin reiterated his stance that the Brewers' lack of major offseason moves is due to the belief that the team will improve simply with the continued development of young players and the returns of suspended or injured stars like Braun or Aramis Ramirez.
  • The Brewers pursued James Loney, who instead re-signed with the Rays for a three-year, $21MM contract.  "We knew if he had the same deal he was probably going to go back to Tampa," Melvin said.  Indeed, Loney said that he chose the Rays' contract over similar offers from not just the Brewers, but also the Pirates and Astros.
  • Melvin cited some interest in Justin Morneau, who signed with the Rockies last month, but the GM sounded as if he wasn't particularly enamored with the free agent options at first base.  "The list wasn't very good. It's one of those years where the position we needed, there were fewer opportunities to get someone," Melvin said.
  • In also noting that the trade market for first baseman was thin, Melvin acknowledged he had at least had discussions with the Rangers and Mariners.  "There just aren't available guys. Texas, at this point, is not willing to talk about [Mitch] Moreland. Seattle is not interested in moving their guys. So, there aren't a lot of choices."
  • The Brewers didn't have much available payroll space this offseason but extra money would've been there if the situation warranted.  "We haven't increased it that much, but if the right player was there I would go to (team owner) Mark (Attanasio) and say it's the right player," Melvin said.  "When it comes to payroll, we're always guarded to make sure that we don't put ourselves in a hole or a bind that we can't get out of two years from now or three years from now. Our payroll will be in a much better position next year in that regard."  The Brewers have only $39.1MM committed for 2015 as Ramirez, Yovani Gallardo and Tom Gorzelanny all come off the books next winter, plus Rickie Weeks seems unlikely to receive the 600 PA he needs this season to trigger his $11.5MM vesting option for 2015.

NL West Rumors: D-Backs, Padres, Giants

It remains to be seen whether or not Masahiro Tanaka will be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but if he is and the Diamondbacks have yet to address their starting pitching needs, expect Arizona to place a bid on the Japanese right-hander, tweets Steve Gilbert of MLB.com. Here's more on the D-Backs and a pair of their NL West rivals:

  • Kevin Towers and the D-Backs don't mind waiting on Eric Chavez, who is deciding where he wants to play and monitoring Arizona's moves, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link).
  • Asked about the possibility of trading Archie Bradley, Towers suggested today that it would be "very, very tough" for the D-Backs to do so, tweets Gilbert.
  • The Padres have interest in Scott Downs, among other southpaw relievers, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. San Diego's Josh Byrnes confirmed that the team is casting a wide net for bullpen help, indicating that he has touched base with "most" available left-handed relievers (Twitter link via Adam Berry of MLB.com).
  • According to Berry (Twitter links), Byrnes said the Padres have weighed "six or eight ideas" and have meetings set up to discuss free agents and trades. Byrnes also shot down the latest round of Chase Headley rumors, stating that the team views the third baseman as part of its 2014 plans.
  • Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area has some details on the Giants' search for an outfielder, tweeting that the Giants called three times on Norichika Aoki before the Brewers decided to send Aoki to the Royals. In a second tweet, Baggarly says the Giants are interested in Michael Morse and Corey Hart, but probably not at the years and dollars those players will command.
  • John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle provides a couple more Giants updates, reporting that no teams have inquired on San Francisco's five starters, but that the club's young pitching has drawn some interest. Shea adds that the team appears unlikely to bring back Chad Gaudin (Twitter links).


Central Notes: Aoki, Hughes, Dunn

Milwaukee's trade of Norichika Aoki to the Royals makes sense for the Brewers and for Aoki himself, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy writes. Khris Davis' emergence late last season means there won't be room for Aoki as a full-time player now that Ryan Braun's suspension is over, as the Brewers will go with an outfield of Davis, Carlos Gomez and Braun. Aoki's path to playing time will be clearer in Kansas City. "Everybody was on board with it," says Aoki's agent, Nez Balelo. "[Kansas City] was the best viable option. He’s going to love it there because he will get an opportunity to lead off and play every day." Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Royals infielder Christian Colon has switched agents from Scott Boras to Excel Sports, tweets Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.
  • The Royals and Angels might make good trade partners, with the Angels sending second baseman Howie Kendrick to Kansas City in return for young pitching, the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna tweets.
  • Phil Hughes was surprised to receive a three-year, $24MM deal from the Twins, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports. "Obviously the season I had was a disaster," says Hughes. "Coming into this thing, I was kind of expecting to just rebuild my value with a good year next year somewhere." The Mariners and Angels were among the other teams who bid for Hughes, but the Twins' offer of three guaranteed years won out. 
  • Now that the White Sox have signed Jose Dariel Abreu and re-signed Paul Konerko, there's less playing time available for Adam Dunn, writes CSNChicago.com's Dan Hayes. It appears Konerko and Dunn will platoon, with Konerko starting at designated hitter against lefties. Dunn hit .226/.327/.459 against righties last year, compared to .197/.296/.385 against lefties.

Royals Acquire Norichika Aoki

The Royals have acquired outfielder Norichika Aoki from the Brewers in exchange for left-hander Will Smith, the Brewers have announced via press release. The trade was first reported last night by the folks at the Royal Revival blog (on Twitter).

Aoki-Norichika

Aoki, 32 next month, enjoyed his second solid season with the Brewers since coming over from Japan. The lefty swinger batted .286/.356/.370 with eight homers and 20 stolen bases. Though his power numbers dipped in 2013, the former NPB batting champion has a solid .287/.355/.399 line in his two Major League seasons to go along with excellent right-field defense (+4.2 UZR/150; +21 DRS). He comes at a highly affordable rate also, as the Brewers exercised a cheap $1.9MM club option on Aoki following the season. He is a free agent following the 2014 campaign.

Aoki's acquisition would seem to call Kansas City's pursuit of Carlos Beltran into question. The Royals had reportedly been one of the front-runners to land Beltran (if not the front-runner), but unless they plan on shifting Aoki to center field, his presence in right field and Billy Butler's presence at DH make it more difficult to see Beltran fitting into the plans. However, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Royals still plan on pursuing Beltran even after acquiring Aoki.

Smith, 24, was shifted to the bullpen in 2013 and enjoyed an outstanding breakout campaign in a half-season's worth of big league action. Smith posted a 3.24 ERA with 11.6 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate in 33 1/3 innings for the Royals. His ERA would likely have been lower had it not been for a fluke 18.8 percent homer-to-flyball ratio that figures to regress going forward. xFIP, which assumes a normalized HR/FB ratio, pegged Smith at 2.50 last season. Smith held opposing right-handers to a .684 OPS and stifled lefties to the tune of a .157/.204/.353 line, so he's capable against hitters from both sides of the dish.

The Royals originally acquired Smith along with Sean O'Sullivan in a deal that sent Alberto Callaspo to the Angels. He's spent most of his career as a starting pitcher in the minors, where he has a 3.85 career ERA in 231 1/3 innings. Smith won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 campaign and can be controlled through the 2019 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Brewers Won’t Trade Ryan Braun

Though "four or five clubs" approached Brewers general manager Doug Melvin at the GM Meetings last week to inquire on Ryan Braun's availability, Melvin told the other GMs that Braun isn't available, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Melvin addressed trade rumors that have circulated around his embattled outfielder:

"We have no intentions of trading Ryan. There's absolutely no truth to that. We've never contacted any team about Ryan."

Melvin told Haudricourt that he, manager Ron Roenicke and owner Mark Attanasio had lunch with Braun last week in Los Angeles. There was no talk of trades, and his PED suspension was not a main talking point either. Rather, the Brewers brass met to discuss the upcoming plans for next season and a potential shift to right field for Braun, an idea to which Braun was open.

A shift to right field could open up some more at-bats for Khris Davis following an impressive Major League debut, though it could displace Norichika Aoki as well. Haudricourt writes that Aoki could still be used in left field at times in that scenario, however. He also adds that the very fact that the Brewers are discussing Braun's future with him illustrates the fact that he's not likely to be traded this winter.

Braun is owed $122MM over the next seven seasons, including a $4MM buyout on his $15MM mutual option for the 2021 season and two remaining annual payments of $2.5MM in 2014 and 2015 as part of the $10MM signing bonus on his most recent extension.


Central Rumors: Hart, Pelfrey, Suzuki, Cubs, Indians

Today's news out of the AL and NL Central..


Mets, Brewers Talked Ike Davis Trade

The Mets and Brewers discussed a trade that would've sent first baseman Ike Davis to Milwaukee, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports.  No deal is likely at this time, however, as talks failed to generate much traction.

First base is a definite need for the Brewers, as free agent Corey Hart is drawing interest from several teams, including the Mets themselves.  New York is known to be shopping both Davis and Lucas Duda but reportedly would prefer to deal Davis and give Duda a clear shot as an everyday first baseman. 

Davis was the Mets' first round draft pick in 2008 but he has struggled to find consistency in the majors.  A big second half of the 2012 season gave him 32 homers and a .771 OPS for the campaign but, rather than turn the corner, Davis took another step back in 2013 and hit just .205/.326/.334 with nine homers.  Davis' struggles against left-handed pitching would mean that any team acquiring him would need a right-handed platoon partner as well.  Despite this, a Major League executive tells Martino that "four or five teams" could be fits for Davis next season.

The Brewers prefer to explore the free agent market rather than talk trades at this stage of the offseason, a source tells Martino.  The source also notes that the Brewers aren't likely to trade outfielder Norichika Aoki, which isn't surprising given that Aoki is playing on a bargain $2MM contract for 2014.


Brewers Exercise Norichika Aoki’s Option

The Brewers have exercised their club option on right fielder Norichika Aoki, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. While previously reported to be worth just $1.5MM, McCalvy reports that the actual total is just under $2MM due to incentives that he reached in 2012-13. Either way, as McCalvy notes, exercising Aoki's option was a no-brainer for Brewers GM Doug Melvin.

Aoki, 32 in January, hit .287/.355/.399 in his first two seasons with the Brew Crew, totaling 18 homers and 50 stolen bases. Aoki originally projected to be a reserve outfielder for the Brewers, but he thrived in an everyday role after Corey Hart moved to first base full-time to replace the injured Mat Gamel in 2012.

The Brewers won the rights to negotiate with Aoki, a former NPB batting champion in Japan, by submitting a $2.5MM posting fee. Aoki then signed a two-year, $2.5MM contract with an option for a third year and incentives that could take the contract's total value to $8.6MM over three years. In hindsight, the move has turned out to be one of baseball's biggest bargains and one of the savviest of Melvin's tenure as GM.

Because Aoki is such a bargain, the emergence of Khris Davis as a potential outfield option alongside Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun has led many to speculate that Aoki could be dealt in the offseason. However, as MLBTR's Edward Creech noted in his recent Offseason Outlook for the Brewers, Melvin seems highly reluctant to deal Aoki.


NL Central Notes: Burnett, Sveum, Aoki

Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett could be making his last career start when he takes the hill tonight against the Reds. The Pirates have clinched a playoff spot, of course, but they're extremely likely to end up in a one-game playoff, also against Cincinnati. Francisco Liriano figures to start that game, and if the Pirates lose it, their season would be over. Burnett recently told the press he was "50-50" about whether he would play in 2014, although the Pirates have shown strong interest in bringing him back. Here are more notes from the NL Central.

  • Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs are likely to make a decision about manager Dale Sveum and his coaching staff by Monday, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports (via Twitter). Sveum's status has been uncertain for weeks now, with rumblings that the Cubs always considered him a placeholder until they were ready to compete. A strong year for the Cubs' top prospects may have convinced Epstein and Hoyer to be more aggressive in finding a manager for next season. The Cubs have gone 66-93 while rebuilding in 2013.
  • The Brewers will exercise outfielder Norichika Aoki's option, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports (via Twitter). Aoki's option is only for $1.5MM (with a $250K buyout) and so, as McCalvy notes, the decision was likely an easy one for Milwaukee. Aoki has produced a combined 4.2 WAR in his two seasons with the Brewers, including 1.7 in a 2013 season in which he's hit .287/.357/.368.