The Winter Meetings have come and gone and the Orioles still have at least one corner outfield spot open. Sure they state they can play a combination of Pearce, Lough and De Aza there, but the reality is that none of those players are really suited to be a full time option. The Orioles also think that Dariel Alvarez and/or Mike Yazstremski might be ready to take over a spot soon as well, so the Orioles aren’t looking for a long term option in either corner.
Outfielders are scarce in quality and quantity this offseason, but there is still one free agent left that fits the Orioles and that is Nori Aoki. The Orioles are said to have “limited interest”, but Aoki has been the best fit to replace Nick Markakis at the top the Orioles’ order and in right field all offseason.
I’ve been a champion of Aoki since he was first introduced to MLB three offseasons ago because he does all the little things – working the count, getting on base and has good speed once on the basepaths. He’s not exactly a gazelle in the outfield by any means, but he makes the plays and rates well overall (+10 DRS, +8.4 UZR/150) in spite of his down year in Kansas City (-8 DRS).
The quality I like most about Aoki is that he battles pitchers and doesn’t give away at-bats. With a 3.80 P/A mark last year and having a 3.76 P/A statistic for his three year career, Aoki certainly does not fit into the free-swinger category. His 26.4% O-Swing (percentage of swings outside the strike zone) would have ranked him first on last year’s Orioles above their two most disciplined bats, Steve Pearce (28.9%) and Nick Markakis (27.1%).
It’s true that he has very little power (career .387 SLG), but the Orioles have plenty of power even after losing Nelson Cruz with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters still in the lineup, and they could still get more from Machado and Schoop. What the Orioles don’t have is a patient bat to put at the top of the lineup with speed to set the table and take advantage of that power and that’s why they need a bat like Aoki.
Contract wise, he should fit right into their plans as he’s seeking a three year deal, which means the Orioles might be able to get him for a 2 year deal with an option. An $8-9 million figure per year also seems pretty reasonable for a 2.0+ fWAR performance.
The Orioles lost the ALCS because they didn’t have the on-base capability to account for their neutralized power, so they couldn’t manufacture runs like the Royals were able to do. The Orioles have too many guys trying to be the hero and not enough players just willing to set the table.
Aoki is that guy, a journeyman now, but a solid addition to any lineup and the perfect fit, both as a player and contract wise, for an Orioles team looking to fix their weaknesses and get back to the World Series.