The Royals may have found their leadoff hitter for 2014.
Kansas City swung a deal this week, sending left-handed pitcher Will Smith to Milwaukee in exchange for Norichika Aoki. With Alex Gordon hitting in the leadoff spot for most of the season in 2013, the Royals struggled to get prototypical production from that spot in the lineup.
In 2013, Royals’ leadoff hitters ranked in the bottom third of the league in OBP (.309), strikeout rate (18.7%) and stolen bases (15).
The pesky Aoki should give Kansas CIty solid production at the top of the lineup. He rarely strikes out (only 40 Ks in 674 plate appearances last season), he gets on base (.356 OBP in 2013), and he is a threat on the basepaths (20 SB in 2013).
Aoki hit .286 with eight home runs and 37 RBI last season with the Brewers. He has played primarily in right field since coming to the MLB. He did play some center field in Japan, so he has some versatility.
Aside from inserting Aoki into the leadoff spot, the Royals will be able to slot Gordon into a spot in the lineup where he can focus on driving in runs.
The Royals have a log-jam in the outfield at the moment. Gordon will be penciled in at left field and Aoki should start in right. That leaves one starting spot for Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, David Lough and Justin Maxwell.
The Royals identified a need and filled it early in the off-season.
With the Winter Meetings coming up next week, the Royals may have more moves coming. They still have question marks at second base and the back end of the rotation. They are extremely deep in the outfield and in the bullpen and may decide to use one of their talented outfielders or relievers as a trade chip.
The Aoki deal could just be the beginning of a busy offseason for Kansas City. We’ll just have to wait and see.