Ryan Braun's return from suspension created a problem for the Brewers, and it didn't have anything to do with the negative PR that came with his 65-game ban. With Braun back in the lineup, they had too many outfielders and not enough at-bats to go around. The Brewers addressed the logjam today by trading Norichika Aoki to Kansas City for left-handed pitcher Will Smith.
Due to become a free agent after the 2014 season, Aoki was the most logical trade chip in the Brewers outfield — Braun and Carlos Gomez, with his recent contract extension and Gold Glove, aren't going anywhere anytime soon. With Aoki gone, it appears Braun will be moving to right field in 2014, making way for Khris Davis to take over in left. Davis hit .279/.353/.596 with 11 home runs in 136 at-bats last season as Braun's main replacement during the Biogenesis suspension.
The Brewers signed Aoki to an absurdly team-friendly deal — two years, $3 million total with a 2014 option for $1.95 million — prior to the 2012 season after winning negotiating rights with a $2.5 million posting fee. A three-time batting champion in Japan, Aoki hit .287/.355/.399 in his two seasons with the Brewers, mainly serving as the team's leadoff hitter. Only Shin-Soo Choo had a better OBP as a leadoff guy during that time. While Aoki doesn't have the power you typically associate with a corner outfielder, but he's a solid defender and the Royals have really struggled in the OBP department.
Smith is a big (6'5", 250 pounds) left-hander that the Royals have appeared to give up on as a starting prospect. He'll be 24 in 2014, and if he doesn't stick in the rotation, he's at least been nasty against left-handed batters in relief — something that comes in handy when you have the likes of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the division. Smith struck out 43 batters and only walked 7 in 33.1 innings for the Royals last season, mostly in relief.
The Brewers have fixed their outfield logjam, but are putting a lot of trust in Davis' ability to repeat last year's performance and now have to figure out who's going to lead off (the early money would probably be on Jean Segura). The Royals, meanwhile, get the outfield help they were desperate for, and apparently acquiring Aoki doesn't mean they're out on Carlos Beltran, who could still DH if they could find a spot for Billy Butler.
The last time the Brewers and Royals made a trade, it was the Zack Greinke deal that hasn't panned out well for Kansas City. At least on the surface, it's a lot easier to like this deal for the Royals, who addressed a need without giving up anything they particularly liked.