The Kansas City Royals acquired outfielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee to be their leadoff hitter Thursday, which also means the Brewers are likely to shift Ryan Braun to right field.
Milwaukee received left-hander Will Smith, who spent most of the past couple seasons shuffling between Kansas City and Triple-A Omaha, and between the bullpen and the starting rotation.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said on a conference call that he envisions Aoki batting at the top of the order, just as he did with the Brewers, which would allow Alex Gordon to slide down into an RBI-producing role. Aoki hit .286 with eight homers, 37 RBIs and 20 steals last season.
Aoki, who turns 32 next month, also ranked second in the majors with 40 infield hits and hit .339 against left-handed pitching, the best average by a left-handed hitter in the big leagues. He struck out just 40 times in 674 plate appearances.
“We like his energy, we like his work ethic. He’s a pro,” Moore said. “We had a chance to see him a lot in Japan coming up. ... We’ll see how it plays out.”
Aoki, who is in the last year of his contract, is due $1.25 million this season. He can also make up to $1,087,500 in performance bonuses based on starts and games played.
The Royals already bolstered their rotation this offseason by agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal with Jason Vargas. Now they’ve acquired the leadoff hitter they have long coveted.
Moore said he’s still working on adding an impact bat, especially in the outfield. Veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, who began his career with the Royals, spent time in Kansas City earlier this week. He’s reportedly seeking a three-year, $48 million deal.
“They’re far and few,” Moore said. “That being said, that’s an area we’re trying to pursue, but let me say this, we definitely feel all our offensive players are still improving. They have not reached their peak performance. They’re going to continue to get better.”
By moving Aoki, the Brewers could head into next season with rookie Khris Davis in left field, Gold Glove-winner Carlos Gomez in center and Braun in right. Braun is expected back after his season-ending, 65-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s anti-drug agreement. Davis emerged down the stretch last season, filling in for Braun in left by hitting .279 with 11 homers.
Smith went 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 35 games, including 17 starts, during his time in Kansas City. He was 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA last year, with 43 strikeouts in 33 innings, pitching primarily in relief.