Fans in KC started debating the merits of acquiring Nori Aoki as soon as news leaked that the Kansas City Royals were interested in him. I tried to take a little time for him to, you know, play baseball here until making my official judgment on Nori and the deal that brought him here. After half a season of work to analyze, I’m nearly ready to call that move a mistake. Some of the reasons why aren’t even Nori’s fault, including the comparisons made between him and other players on the market at the time.
If you didn’t already notice, Nelson Cruz went absolutely nuts in the first half of this season. He’s tied with Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion, one of this half-season’s biggest Royal killers, for the HR lead with 25. He also leads MLB in total RBI with 66. Meanwhile, Nori’s average as the No. 1 hitter in the lineup is .021 points below Cruz’s .284. Aoki, the apparent prototypical leadoff hitter, has a .350 on-base percentage. Cruz has an OBP of .351. Cruz’s RBI total alone is 16 runs higher than Aoki’s combined total of runs and RBIs.
The unbelievable deal the Baltimore Orioles got for the league’s most prolific home run hitter of the year makes the Nori deal look even uglier. Baltimore snagged Cruz with a one-year, $8 million contract. KC gave up a high-ceiling left-handed pitcher in Will Smith and took on a $1.95 million salary to acquire Aoki. By the way, Smith has a 1.36 ERA in 39.2 of relief duty with the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Royals quickly found themselves in need of a good lefty in the bullpen.
Another issue that muddied the situation further is the Baltimore slugger’s previous PED usage. Did KC think he wouldn’t be the same without the juice? Would Cruz’s previous mistakes really stop fans from cheering for him if he was the guy leading KC to the playoffs? Perhaps that’s a conversation for another time, but I know this: Success makes fans forget sins far worse than taking performance-enhancing drugs.
All in all, Aoki hasn’t done enough to warrant losing not only a lefty with a bright future, but also a chance to sign someone better. Now that Jarrod Dyson is hitting .293 on the year and Lorenzo Cain has excelled as a leadoff hitter, Nori’s influence may seem even less relevant by season’s end. Of course, if he proves me wrong and hits .500 for the rest of the year (as a Royal), I wouldn’t complain one bit.