I know a lot of people really like Norichicka Aoki and they want to keep him around. I can understand that. He’s a prototypical leadoff hitter. He has hit for a good average and gotten on-base at a well above average rate since coming to the majors in 2012. He’ll only make about $2 million in 2014. I have to imagine that anyone against trading him is under the impression the Brewers have a chance to make the postseason, because why else keep him? It’s not like they’re lacking for outfielders. I think the chances are slim that they compete, but if they do they might get better production by starting Khris Davis instead. I like Aoki too, but quite frankly the time to cut ties with him is quickly approaching if it hasn’t already arrived.
In 2012 Aoki hit 288/355/433, with 30 SB (8 CS), and 10 HR which was good for a 114 wRC+. In 2013 he hit 286/356/370, with 20 SB (12 CS), and 8 HR which was good for a 104 wRC+. You’ll notice his slugging numbers were way down. That’s because he hit 2 fewer home runs, 1 fewer triples, and 17 fewer doubles. His base running skills also took a massive hit. He stole 10 fewer bases while getting caught 4 more times. His extra bases taken percentage (XBT%) dropped from 40% to 28%. The point is not to suggest that he is useless because he can't hit for power numbers or run well. It's to illustrate his decline. He still hit for a good average and got on-base at an above average clip. That is a valuable skill even if it’s mitigated by lowered slugging numbers. I’m just not sure it puts him ahead of the other in-house option.
If you want the Brewers to compete then you should want them to start Khris Davis. He has the potential to be a far greater offensive threat than Aoki. In 56 games he hit 279/353/579 with 11 home runs. That’s good for a 160 wRC+. While there’s some doubt that he can repeat that over an entire season, that beats Aoki’s best mark by 46 points. Davis had good numbers at ever level in the minors so that at least suggests he can be a capable major leaguer. Even if Davis loses some ground it shouldn’t be too difficult to surpass Aoki’s 104 wRC+ in 2013 which was barely above average (100 is average). He might not be suited for leadoff, but that won’t matter. They can find someone else to fill that spot and use Davis’ slugging ability further down the line-up.
Aoki’s defense in right is adequate but I’d be worried about putting him in center. That limits his value as a back-up. If they wanted to use him off the bench, his salary is so low that he could serve in a back-up role. Even then, if the argument is to save money Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer would each make $1.5 million less. They each provide certain advantages (and disadvantages) over Aoki too. Gindl provides more pop but cannot play center. Schafer is a much better defender but his bat is weak. Aoki is the most well rounded of the three so you could still argue that he’s the best choice. I think he’d serve the Brewers better in a trade.
By now I’m sure everyone has heard about the proposed Aoki for Ike Davis trade. This is an example of what I wouldn’t trade him for. I think, right now, the Brewers should only trade Aoki for a prospect. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what other teams have a need for him and it’s likely he’s only a 4th outfielder or platoon player on most other teams. If they’re unable to get a decent value for him, then I’d hang onto him and revisit the scenario at the trade deadline. Aoki won’t, and shouldn’t, be extended. At mid-season it will be about getting anything for a player on his way out. Therefore, at that time, I will lower my expectations regarding the return. I’ll even take a bullpen prospect. The only way I don’t trade him is if the Brewers are competing, though if you’ve been keeping up with my articles you’ll know I doubt the possibility.