Norichika Aoki Rumors

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.

Central Notes: Chen, Konerko, Brewers, Axford

For the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to the postseason.  The Buccos and Reds each clinched playoff spots tonight, though it remains to be seen if those two clubs will face each other in the Wild Card game, or if one of them can catch the Cardinals for the NL Central lead.  Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis all won on Monday, so the Cards retained their two-game lead.

Here's the latest from both the NL and AL Central divisions…

  • Bruce Chen loves pitching for the Royals and wants to re-sign the team this winter, the veteran southpaw tells Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.  Chen said that he hasn't yet sat down with agent Scott Boras to determine his market and that the Royals "haven’t talked to me" about a new contract, but Chen said he hopes to pitch for at least another four or five seasons.  The 36-year-old has a 3.13 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 2.30 K/BB ratio in 109 1/3 IP this season, making 13 starts and 19 appearances out of the bullpen.  Dutton shared some more Royals items earlier today.
  • Paul Konerko won't decide on his playing future until after the season, a source tells ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine.  Konerko has been toying with the idea of retirement all season, though he has reportedly told friends he intends to play in 2014.
  • Norichika Aoki earned a $250K bonus upon making his 140th start of the season tonight, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports.  This ups Aoki's salary to $1.5MM for the season, and he can earn $0.5875MM for playing in one more game this year.  The Brewers have already gotten a huge bargain from Aoki's original two-year, $2.5MM contract and they hold a $1.5MM team option on the outfielder for 2014.
  • In other Brewers contract news from McCalvy, right-hander Kyle Lohse will earn a $350K bonus on Wednesday when he retires his first batter and reaches the 190-inning mark for the season.
  • John Axford is "open to discussing something with the Cardinals" about a new contract this offseason but for now is just looking forward to the postseason, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  Axford has posted a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 IP since joining the Cards three weeks ago but he could be a non-tender candidate due to his high arbitration number.  Axford is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and will earn a raise on his $5MM salary, plus he has two more arb years remaining after that as a Super Two player.

Brewers To Retain Aoki; Trade Talks Quiet

3:12pm: Gallardo left today's start early due to an injury, limping off the mound.  The Brewers described the injury as left hamstring tightness.

11:09am: "We're not going to move him," Brewers GM Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in regard to affordable right fielder Norichika Aoki.  Melvin noted that most of the players being traded are in their contract years; Aoki has a $1.5MM club option for 2014.

Melvin also told Haudricout he's not motivated to move Kyle Lohse, nor is he engaged in trade talks about today's starter, Yovani Gallardo.  Melvin isn't in active talks for any of his relievers, either, including Mike Gonzalez.  "Teams have to make offers," said Melvin who did acknowledge having one offer on the table for a pitcher, which he does not expect to lead to a deal.