Stray Rantings on the Aoki Signing

 

The Giants finalized their deal with Nori Aoki yesterday, and the specifics were exactly as reported. Aoki will get $4 million in 2015 and then the team holds a $5.5 million option on him for 2016, so this could essentially turn into a two-year deal if Aoki performs well. I wrote about the signing for Bay Sports Net over the weekend, and the more I think about the signing, the more I like it. So as a follow up, here are a couple of stray thoughts on the newest Giant, because my opinion on the matter is in such high demand.

In that BSN write-up, I had linked to an article that Jeff Sullivan wrote for Fangraphs lauding the signing. Well, here it is again. In the article, Sullivan mentions that in a world where Nick Markakis gets a four-year, $44 million deal, nabbing Aoki for just one year, at a piddling $4 million, is a steal. And he’s absolutely right. Here’s what both Aoki and Markakis have slashed over the past three seasons:

Aoki 2012-2014: .287/.353/.387

Markakis 2012-2014: .279/.342/.396

Markakis will be 31 in 2015; Aoki will be 33. Markakis spent those three seasons at Camden Yards, a pretty neutral park that sways a little towards hitters. Aoki spent 2012 and 2013 in hitter-friendly Miller Park before going to the more pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium last season. Neither of these guys are great fielders, but neither could really be considered altogether poor, either. You can probably still make the argument that Markakis is the better player, but does he look like a player who is worth $40 million more than Aoki?

Of course not. The fact that the Braves made an idiotic signing doesn’t mean Aoki is some kind of Hall-of-Famer, obviously, but it underlines yet again why the Giants have been so successful this decade. They spend their big money on retaining stars like Buster Posey or good regulars like Angel Pagan, and then sign solid complimentary players for below-market prices. In 2010, instead of blowing a lot of money on Adam Laroche or some other free agent first baseman, they took a chance on Aubrey Huff and it paid off. Last year, they signed Mike Morse for dirt cheap in lieu of a more expensive name and then watched him knock in the game-winning run in Game Seven of the World Series. Now they get Aoki when teams like the Mets are handing away draft picks for the honor of signing Michael Cuddyer.

These relatively minor signings aren’t too sexy to those knee-jerk, drunken fans who want a star imported every season, but it illustrates how the Giants have been generally wise over the past few seasons about how they’re spending their money. Getting burned by a Barry Zito contract certainly has a way of forcing a major league front office to rethink things.

I also thought this move gave some interesting insight into how the gears turn in the Giants’ front office. There had been a lot of talk over the past month or so about the Giants being in talks with Ben Zobrist. Those talks for Zobrist appeared to be gaining serious steam at one point and Mike Krukow was even singing his praises like a Zorilla Bay invasion was a foregone conclusion. Then, out of nowhere, the A’s came in and stole the utility man out from everybody’s nose. This right after Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans made some nebulous comments about being “realistic” in acquiring Zobrist.

Rumor has it that the Rays wanted both Kyle Crick and Andrew Susac for Zorilla. Crick and Susac rate as two of the top five prospects in the Giants’ system. Crick has an electric arm and could be a solid major league starter if he irons out his control problems, or a knockout reliever at worst. Susac could start in the major leagues right now and be an above average regular, but he’s stuck behind Posey. If the Giants balked at that price, it’s totally understandable.

Here’s what the Giants almost certainly concluded: Zobrist is a free agent after this season, so if they want him that much, why trade away two of their best prospects when they could just wait a year and sign him without giving anybody away? After the A’s got him, it made the decision to sign a one-year stopgap like Aoki even easier, because the A’s almost certainly won’t re-sign Zobrist and the Giants could potentially have him next season if they want him badly enough.

So the Giants’ 2015 lineup is more or less set, and it projects to look like this:

CF Pagan
2B Panik
C Posey
RF Pence
1B Belt
3B McGehee
LF Aoki
SS Crawford

Or something. Count me as one who still wants to see Brandon Belt hitting third, and I really think Pagan should be hitting down more in the order and Aoki leading off. Hell, here’s the batting order if one Paul Rice were manager:

LF Aoki
2B Panik
1B Belt
C Posey
RF Pence
CF Pagan
3B McGehee
SS Crawford
Util Brock Holt (whom the Giants have traded for because he’s awesome and he’s a living Arrested Development reference. Make it happen, Sabes!)

Keep in mind that manager Rice would lose control of the team in two weeks and most likely get choked Sprewell-style by Jake Peavy after pulling him from a game early. So perhaps it’s better off if we just go with whatever Bochy has in mind.

Still, Aoki’s extreme-contact ability and willingness to work the count combine to make him kind of the prototypical leadoff hitter. Plus, when Pagan batted fifth for a stretch of 45 games in 2012, he hit .314/.362/402. He can more than hold his own in a more traditional “run-producer” spot in the lineup. It would just be a shame if Aoki’s skills weren’t utilized to their full potential.

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