By: Brian Mangan
(Ed: This article was written on Monday, 11/10, prior to the Mets signing Michael Cuddyer. Although another roster move might be necessary for the Mets, it doesn’t look like it’ll be coming in the form of an outfielder. Nonetheless, I wrote all this, so I am publishing it for the universe.)
Here’s what we know: 1) The Mets need a corner outfielder, 2) the Mets don’t have a ton of money to spend right now, and 3) the Mets could use help for their lineup, which ordinarily struggles against left-handed pitching.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of cheap, right-handed outfielders available right now. But what about a left-handed outfielder who hits better against lefties than he does against righties? Such a man exists: Nori Aoki.
Nori Aoki was not a well-known outfielder prior to his appearance in this year’s World Series with the Royals, having toiled in obscurity for two years with the Brewers and then through a mostly unspectacular 2014 regular season with Kansas City. Given his age, his strengths, and his presumably modest contract demands, Aoki is an attractive target.
Aoki Is a Solid Every Day Player
Aoki has been solid, but unspectacular, since coming to the United States for his age 30 season in 2012. Over 1,811 MLB plate appearances, he’s earned a .287 batting average and excellent .353 on-base percentage, although his .387 slugging percentage is unusually low for a corner outfielder. He has never hit more than 10 home runs in a season, but averages 41 extra-base hits per 162 games played in his career.
He will be playing next season at age 33, so he is entering the sunset of his career, but there is no reason to believe that he cannot put up another productive season or two. Aoki has been worth 5.1 WAR over the last three years according to Fangraphs, and 7.5 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Both sites’ defensive metrics rate Aoki as an above average player.
No matter which valuation you use, Aoki has been worh somewhere between 1.8 – 2.5 WAR on average.
Aoki is Affordable
Yesterday on Metsblog, readers were treated to three estimates for what contract Aoki will receive in the free agent market this offseason from an anonymous scout, anonymous GM, and CBS columnist Jon Heyman: 2 years, $15M (scout), 1 year, $7.5M (GM), 2 years, $14M (Heyman). These predictions are in line with MLB Trade Rumors’s projection of two years, $16 million.
If that is indeed all that Aoki will command, the Mets would be foolish not to jump all over him. Why?
Aoki Is a Perfect Fit For the Mets
The Mets are desperate for someone who can hit left-handed pitching. The team batted .241 with a .309 on-base and .379 slugging against right-handers last year, but batted .230 with a .305 on-base and a putrid .328 slugging last year.
As mentioned at the outset, Aoki is excellent against left-handed pitching despite he himself batting left-handed. For his career, Aoki has a .319 average and 776 OPS against lefties compared to a .273 average and 726 OPS against righties. That split was even more extreme last year, with Aoki walloping lefties to the tune of a .363 average and 863 OPS last year in 124 at bats.
Aoki and his high on-base percentage can slot in at the top of the lineup against left-handed starters, he won’t cost the Mets a draft pick, he’s above-average defensively, and he won’t require a long term commitment. If Aoki were to flop as a Met, the team has Matt Den Dekker on the roster already as his platoon partner, as well as Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto further down on the Farm. Aoki won’t block Nimmo or Conforto, and fits nicely into the current 25 man roster.
Aoki certainly isn’t the best free agent available, but he addresses directly the Mets’ most pressing areas of need and he does it at a very low cost. He’s a fine player who can provide the team with some much needed security.
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Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City. His writing can be found at The Read Zone, and you can follow his (mostly) Mets-related thoughts on twitter at @brianpmangan.