By Derek Harvey (@2ndHS)
Earlier today the Brewers traded Norichika Aoki to the Royals for 24 year left-handed pitcher Will Smith. I previously wrote that it was time to trade Aoki, but despite that I’m not a big fan of this particular trade. Smith seems most suited for relief and even then he may need to be relegated to lefty specialist. That isn’t much even for a league average, power-lite, corner outfielder on a (very cheap) 1 year contract. Still, it happened so we might as well take a look at the implications.
Obviously this opens a spot for another outfielder and the Brewers have already said they are going with Khris Davis in left field and moving Ryan Braun to right field. I’m a big fan of this. Braun will be able to give approximately the same level of defense in right as Aoki provided. Khris Davis has a much higher offensive potential than Aoki does. He’s going to be worse defensively than Braun in left, though. So in essence what we’re talking about here is a decrease in defensive capability in left field and a large increase in offensive capability in the line-up. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
The question then becomes what to do with Will Smith? The Brewers have said they will look at him as a starter in spring training. He did come up through the minors as a starter and made 16 starts for the Royals in 2012, but he wasn’t very good. In 2013 they used him out of the pen and he was much better. He throws in the low 90’s with his fastball which was well below average (-10.4 runs) in 2012 when he was a starter, and a little bit above average (+0.7 runs) in 2013 when he was mostly a reliever. He has solid slider that was worth 2.8 runs above average in relief. He has a curveball and change-up but neither has been effective. He has a problem limiting the home run whether he’s pitching out of the rotation or in the bullpen and in Miller Park that could be accentuated. Smith might have the ability to move to the rotation in the same way Marco Estrada did, but I wouldn’t expect it. If he is starting in 2014 it’ll probably be in AAA. For now at least my money is on him throwing out of the Brewers’ bullpen, possibly as a LOOGY. In 2013, mostly as a reliever, he had a 2.63 FIP and a 0.89! xFIP against lefties, but 4.21 FIP and 3.74 xFIP against righties. He had similar platoon splits in 2012 as a starter. Bottom-line, he’s been far less effective against rightes, caveat being the small sample size.
The last thing to be determined is who leads-off. The three candidates will likely be Scooter Gennett, Jean Segura, and Carlos Gomez. I think Gomez has too much power to hit out of the lead-off spot. Gennett is too much of question mark for me to be comfortable with him. Segura isn’t necessarily a great option either as he doesn’t take a lot of walks so his on-base percentage is heavily tied into his batting average. He also cooled off a lot later in the season. I’m hoping that’s because he was tired after playing the full 2012 season, followed by winter ball, and then the full 2013 season. Were it up to me I’d put Segura lead-off followed by Gomez. I want to see more of Gennett before I put him in such an important spot. I’d have him batting 8th. Also, that way nothing would have to change when Weeks gets the start against left-handed pitching.
Smith’s ceiling is as a back-end starter and if he hits that, then this was a decent, if not great trade. Smiths’s floor, and a more realistic expectation, is as a left-handed specialist. If that’s the case this was a poor trade. He could also be a solid middle reliever who’s brutal to lefties. That’s good, but I’m not sure it was the best use of Aoki. At the very least I would have waited until the trade deadline, but maybe this was the best they were ever going to get. It’s a little hard to second-guess something with essentially no information. I can’t know the level of interest from other clubs or how hard the Brewers shopped Aoki, but if a LOOGY isn’t the lowliest of positions on a baseball team, I don’t know what is. It did open a spot for Khris Davis which I think alone makes them better for 2014. But there were better ways of doing that. Aoki was gone after this year so it’s not like they’ve ruined themselves, but I think they might have sold themselves short.