Friday, December 6, 2013

Building The 25 - Brewers trade Aoki to Royals for Smith

Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin violated one of the five general rules that I gave him for how to approach this off-season when he traded starting right fielder Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals for left-handed pitcher Will Smith.  Let's table the fact that Aoki became a huge fan favorite in just two years in Milwaukee and evaluate the trade as objectively as possible.

Despite Aoki being 31 and Smith only being 24, they both only have two years of MLB experience because Aoki played professionally in Japan from 2004-11.  Over the last two years Aoki put up seasons of 3.5 (2012) and 3.0 (2013) wins above replacement (WAR). After starting 16 games and throwing 89.2 innings for the Royals in 2012, Smith worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen in 2013 logging just 33.1 innings. That means over the last two years Smith put up 0.0 WAR, which means Smith was nothing better than a borderline major league baseball player while Aoki added 6.5 wins over that same time frame.

According to Jonah Keri's Baseball Dictionary for, a win on the open market costs $6 million, which made Aoki a steal for the Brewers the last two years since he produced 6.5 wins but only cost them $7.25 million ($2.5 million posting fee and $4.75 million in salary and performance bonuses).  Yes, there is a chance that Aoki will regress in 2014 since he turns 32 before the start of the season but the Brewers only owed him a little less than $2 million.  I know that Aoki was a seasoned professional when he joined the Brewers in 2012 while Smith was a young, developing left-handed but two years later it does not look like Smith has improved very much.

Sure Aoki is set to become a free agent after 2014 while Smith is not able to become a free agent until 2020 but my guess is that the Brewers could have extended Aoki through 2015 or 2016 for an average of $2.5 million a year.  I am sure part of the reason the Brewers made the trade was that they wanted to give promising young outfielder Khris Davis a chance to start in 2014 but I am still not sure that justified trading Aoki for what amounts to a glorified lottery ticket.  There was going to be a market for Aoki all the way up to the trade deadline at the end of July so if Davis proved he was worthy of starting over Aoki in 2014, the Brewers could have moved Aoki at some point before the trade deadline for a player like Smith.  If Davis struggled, the Brewers could have kept Aoki at the trade deadline if they were in playoff contention.

Although I didn't like the Aoki for Smith deal because the Brewers traded a known commodity for what amounts to an enticing lottery ticket, I am not always against the Brewers making a trade for a lottery ticket.  Earlier this off-season Melvin traded right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop to the Boston Red Sox for left-handed minor leaguer Luis Ortega.  I didn't mind that deal since last season Badenhop was -0.3 wins above replacement while Ortega is a 20-year-older that had success in the lowest level of the minor leagues despite his slight build 5'10" and 155 lbs.  There are tons of Bradenhops (below average relief pitchers) and Ortegas (young, left-handed pitcher) so I would rather role the dice on Ortega at the expense of Badenhop because Ortega's potentially higher ceiling.

Back to the Aoki/Smith deal for my final thoughts.  Best case scenario Davis picks up in 2014 where he left off in 2013 and the Brewers bought low on a left-handed relief pitcher in Smith for 2014 that they can turn into a starter down the road.  Worst case scenario, Davis and Smith struggle while Aoki continues to be Aoki.  My best guess is that Davis is a slightly above average outfielder while Smith serves as a middle reliever in 2014, which is why I do not think Smith was enough for Melvin to get in return for Aoki.

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