Tag Archives: Norichika Aoki

A different way of evaluating this Brewers season

Posted by Steve

The All-Star Break is always a time of evaluation for MLB teams. They evaluate where they are in the playoff race and decide what direction they want to go at the trading deadline. I certainly have my opinions on what the Brewers should do at the trading deadline, but first, I want to take a look back at this season.

There’s no doubt that the Brewers have had a disaster of a season. They are in last place in the N.L. Central and have the second-worst record in the league. There’s no way to put beer goggles over that one.

But instead, I want to look at how the Brewers’ season has gone compared to expectations. There were obviously varying opinions on how this season would go, but there were also many people who assumed the Brewers would not have a good year. I was one of them, although I can’t say I thought the record would be quite this bad.

So yes, it could be easy to say this is a lost season. But when you compare the events of the season to what was expected, I actually come up with more positives than negatives.

Quickly, let’s look at what we did expect: We knew the starting rotation wouldn’t be good, and it turns out it’s terrible. It is disappointing that guys like Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg and Mark Rogers haven’t done a thing in Milwaukee this year, but it’s also not shocking.

That’s about it.

Almost nothing else about this season has gone as expected, and a number of those things are positive. But let’s look at the negatives first.

Negatives

Ryan Braun continues to face controversy

There is so much that could be said here, but there is still no revealed evidence, so any analysis at this point would simply be conjecture. It is not a surprise that Braun is tied up in this, since we knew about it before the season. I am listing it here, though, because it seems that MLB is even more determined to “get” Braun that I even assumed. Rumblings quickly escalated from 50 to 100 games and then to the ridiculous possibility of a lifetime ban. So this is certainly not good news, even though it’s only slightly surprising.

Corey Hart is out for the year

This is in the same category as the Braun one. Is it surprising Corey Hart has missed time this year due to injury? Of course not; that’s been going on for each of the last few seasons. What is surprising is that he’s now lost for the season. That’s a huge loss–some for what he would have brought to the offense this year, but much more for what the Brewers could have gotten back for him in a trade if he’d been healthy.

Aramis Ramirez can’t stay healthy

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have listed this one under unexpected at all, because Aramis Ramirez being banged up is anything but surprising. It’s why I hated the signing two years ago–not because he can’t hit, but because he can’t stay healthy. Like Hart, this one really hurts because they can’t trade him right now. It seems like best case scenario is he proves himself enough to be included in a waiver deal in August.

Yovani Gallardo kind of sucks

This is definitely the worst negative of the season, and it’s a big reason why the Brewers are currently awful instead of the anticipated mediocre. I plan to break this down at much greater length soon, but in short: Yo has been bad. His velocity is down, his starts are short, and he’s killed his trade value. He could have been a huge chip for the Brewers, but his value may now be so low that they are forced to keep him.

And that’s all I’ve got. Those are the four things that are currently killing the Brewers, and only three are actually on the field. These are the only things I can come up with that went wrong that were not totally expected. Not good, for sure, but I’d have expected more in a season that’s gone this poorly.

Now, to the positives.

Positives

Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez

I put these two together, because A) both performances are incredibly impacting and B) both were pretty unexpected. Yes, I had high hopes for both players, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Gomez and Segura would be 2nd and 12th respectively in WAR for the NL and both make the All-Star team.

Gomez is already making his contract extension look like an absolute steal. His center field defense is elite, and his bat has become a plus. He’s managed to finally meet his potential that scouts raved about years ago. He’s still only 27, meaning he can still be seen as somewhat of a long-term piece in Milwaukee.

Segura’s performance is perhaps even more encouraging. He’s dirt cheap yet for three years (unless the Brewers sign him long-term, which would be great), and he’s already playing at a very high level. Yes, he needs to be more patient offensively, but it’s clear that he’ll be the type of guy the Brewers can just pencil in at shortstop for the next 5+ years and not have to worry about anything. Even if Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena flame out completely, which I’d say is pretty unlikely, Segura makes that Greinke trade last year look like highway robbery.

The performance and increased value of these players has been the most surprising development of the season, good or bad, for the Brewers.

The Bullpen is very good

Last year the bullpen was just about the entire reason the Brewers missed the playoffs. This year, Doug Melvin made some shrewd trades and signings, and it’s been almost as good this year as it was bad last year.

Now obviously, a good bullpen is useless on a team as bad as the 2013 Brewers. So why is this a positive? Because it gives them a bunch of trade chips!

To varying degrees, every pitcher in the bullpen should be available this coming deadline. My hope is at least two get traded, and ideally, even more. The Brewers should take every chance they can get to improve the young talent in the organization.

Wily Peralta looks like a promising young pitcher again

Peralta looked so good at the end of last year that his uneven first half was extremely frustrating. He has incredible stuff: elite fastball velocity, a nice slider and a two-seamer that I swear defies physics. That’s why it’s great that he’s looked so good his last few times out. If he can keep this up, he’ll soon be the top-of-the-rotation type guy that we envisioned and hoped for.

Norichia Aoki is no fluke

Aoki has been another bright spot on the team, proving to be a legitimate lead-off hitter. The Brewers need to trade him, which is too bad, because I enjoy watching him play. However, 30-year-old corner outfielders with 1.5 seasons left on their contracts don’t serve much of a purpose on a last place team.

The Brewers have a worse record than expected

Yes, this is a good thing. Here’s why: last year, when they were mediocre, they very nearly held on to Zack Greinke, which would have been a cripplingly stupid move. This year, there’s no way they could be tempted into making a “buyer’s” move; they’re just way too far out.

Guys like Gallardo, Hart, and Ramirez have all taken hits to their trade value, which hurts, but there are still players to trade. Kyle Lohse should be dealt, which would erase some of the sting of forfeiting a first round pick for him. Aoki should be dealt. Relievers should be dealt. There will likely be no grand prize like last year’s Greinke trade, but the Brewers have a real chance to once again bolster the 2014 and 2015 teams. And if Gallardo can put a few good starts together in the next couple weeks, it’s possible they could nab something very good for him.

I’ll have more to come on the trade deadline shortly, but I thought this would be an interesting way of illustrating how I felt the season has gone so far.

My mind is tellin’ me no…

Posted by Steve

I remember in 2005, 2006, before the Brewers were expected to contend, how badly I wanted the team to win. “Maybe Carlos Lee and Dave Bush will be enough to get them over the top?” Because they weren’t totally awful like teams I grew up with, I sort of got attached. I enjoyed watching a team that won more than 40% of its games, so when July rolled around, I wasn’t excited for the trading deadline. Fans liked the team, but rationality eventually won out. They weren’t going anywhere that year, so selling made perfect sense–even though I liked watching. That’s how most teams are that aren’t quite good enough, really. At some point, you have to admit that they just aren’t going anywhere and cut your losses.

I feel the exact opposite about this Brewers’ team.

Swept by the Royals. Out-managed by Ned Yost. There have been about six “This has got to be rock bottom” games so far. We just saw three in a row.

Emotionally, I want to blow this up. I’ve been reading the Brewerfan “Shopping Greinke” thread for weeks now. ‘He’s not going to sign during the season anymore… Wonder what they’d get for him?’ ‘Marcum, Wolf, Morgan, KROD, even Aoki, Axford and Hart have trade value. What if they just blew it all up? They could get a haul.’

It’s sad when that’s where I’m going emotionally. Not saying, “Well, they’re only 5 1/2 out. Baseball Prospectus is still (somehow) giving them an 18% chance at making the playoffs,” but instead saying, “I wonder what they could get if they just blew up the whole damn thing?”

And then, the rational part of me says it’s still too early to do that. If they have another two-week stretch like this in them, then fine. But really, it’s still only mid-June. Only the worst of the worst are selling at this point, if any.

Still, the worst case scenario isn’t blowing up the entire team. It’s continuing to lose and then not selling. I’m pretty terrified that the Brewers will be, oh, 9 games out of the playoffs at the deadline, and Melvin/Attanasio will say “We’re still in this. Look at the Cardinals and Rays last year!” Then Greinke leaves, Marcum leaves/signs a too-expensive deal, and the Brewers toil around 70-75 wins next year as well.

It’s not time to sell yet, but it’s getting closer. The Brewers have two or three weeks to seriously turn it around. If they don’t, I will actually be rooting for the Cardinals and Reds in hope that the Brewers will do the smart thing and start selling.

 

Replacing Mat Gamel

Posted by Steve

A few months ago the main question the Brewers faced was: How do we replace Prince Fielder? Now, unfortunately, it seems the question is how to replace the replacement. Mat Gamel injured his knee on a frustratingly unimportant play last night in San Diego. The latest news is that he needs surgery, although there has not yet been any detail as far as what the injury is/what type of surgery he’ll need. Safe to say he’ll have a lengthy DL stint; the question at this point is whether he’ll be back at all this year.

So, what should the Brewers do? They have a number of options, but I’ll say right away that playing Travis Ishikawa at first base for the rest of the season should not be an option. His career OPS is .724, which is just not cutting it at first base. Even a platoon of Ishikawa and Brooks Conrad isn’t idea; Ishikawa has a career OPS of .740 against righties–still not cutting it. I’m still not sure why he’s on the team, to be honest.

If the Brewers want to go in house, they have two pretty decent options. The first is to move Aramis Ramirez to first base and call up Taylor Green to play third. While I’d love to see this, I’m almost sure the Brewers wouldn’t do it.

Another option, which seems more likely, is to move Corey Hart to first base, at least on a semi-regular basis. This does a few things. First, it keeps solid offense at the first base position. Secondly, it opens up some playing time for the glut of outfielders on the roster. Nori Aoki or Nyjer Morgan can play right when Hart plays first. While neither has the ideal arm for right field, the outstanding outfield range in center and right would make up for it.

This option seems more likely, simply because the Brewers already worked out Hart at first in spring. Although Hart is likely to be shaky defensively at first (not that Gamel was great himself), his height is an advantage there. It’s still likely that the Brewers’ defense would improve at both first and right, possibly enough to make up for the offensive drop-off.

There are other options as well. The Brewers would probably love to get George Kotarras’ bat into the lineup more often, so I wouldn’t at all mind seeing get occasional playing time at first base.

There are some free agents available. I have no real interest in Jorge Cantu, but Derek Lee is still available. I’m not thrilled at all with Lee, but it’s possible he could still be productive in a semi-platoon role.

My personal preference would be one of the first two suggestions. Since the Brewers aren’t going to move A-Ram to first, I prefer to see Hart there–at least more than Ishikawa/Conrad. I imagine this is what we’ll see pretty regularly. I don’t think they should explore signing someone like Lee unless Gamel is out for the year, and even then, it won’t be some magic solution.

Aoki, K-Rod, and others

Posted by Steve

It’s been quite a while since the last post, but that’s really because there has been virtually no Brewers news to discuss. Then all of a sudden, today we were hit with rapid-fire Brewers news.

How about an off-season Cornucopia of Thoughts?

K-Rod
I was pleasantly surprised that he agreed to a base salary of $8 million. I was expecting at least 11. At 8 mil, the Brewers no longer need to trade him. Or if they want to he’ll be easier to trade. My guess is they end up keeping him, because their bullpen is fairly weak without him. I can’t say I’m excited to watch him pitch, though.

Aoki
A possible fallout of the K-Rod deal might very well have been that the Brewers could now afford to sign Norichika Aoki, although I’m guessing this would have happened anyway. Since I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that Braun will be out 50 games, I’m happy about this signing (with the caveat that the yet-to-be-revealed salary isn’t insane). Hopefully he will be a competent fill-in for Braun for those 50 games. If nothing else, he will be a nice improvement on defense. In fact, when Hart is playing first on occasion (as Melvin recent admitted he’s planning for), an outfield of Aoki-Gomez-Morgan will be fantastic defensively. Even though two of those guys can’t throw, that outfield will rival Arizona’s or any other as one of the best in baseball because of all the ground they’ll cover. When you consider the Brewers have Alex Gonzalez over Yuni and Aoki over Kotsay, you might come to the conclusion that the defense this year could be much improved.

Mainly though, I’m just hoping Aoki can get on base at a pretty nice clip. The Brewers sorely need some OBP guys with Gomez/Morgan, Gonzalez, and Jonathan Lucroy in the everyday lineup.

Other signings
The Brewers have agreed to terms with Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, Carlos Gomez, and Nyjer Morgan on one year deals to avoid arbitration in recent days. When I was projecting the budget, I thought guys like Parra and Loe might be non-tendered. It sure seems like the Brewers will have a larger payroll than I expected; they’ll be pushing $100 million. Pretty crazy considering they were around $40 mil when Mark Attanasio took over the team.

Ryan Braun
This thing is sure dragging out. As I said earlier, I am fully expecting Braun to be out for the first 50 games. I have no idea whether he’s innocent (nobody really does), but my guess is he might be able to save some face in the public eye, but will fall short of overturning his suspension. MLB doesn’t care about intent, so whether there was intent to use a drug as a performance enhancer or not doesn’t really matter.

Craig Counsell
Craig Counsell is joining the Brewers’ front office as a special assistant to the GM. Most everyone seems excited that Counsell is staying in the organization. That’s fine, I guess, but wow is this one of those things that justifies my decision to abandon my pursuit of a job in baseball. Some of my friends have been in Baseball Ops for over five years, are really good at what they do, and are still going year-to-year on low-paying internships. Meanwhile, Craiggers waltzes into a nice cushy job with no front office experience. I’d be much more annoyed if I was still trying to make it, I suppose.

Brewers win posting rights to Japanese center fielder

Posted by Steve

In what has become the off-season of the unexpected, the Brewers have apparently won the posting rights to Norichika Aoki, a center fielder for the Yakult Swallows, for $2.5 million.

I had actually heard a bit about him, but didn’t bother reading any scouting report until this news broke. He’s a center fielder, but it sounds like his arm is pretty weak, so he may be better suited in left. His slash line from 2007 to 2010 is .339/.421/.497/.918, although his numbers, along with the rest of the league, went down last year when they switched to a smaller baseball.

Fangraphs had an article on him a while ago in which he was called the best Japanese hitter since Ichiro. I’d be pretty happy if he was as good as Fukudome, who has a career .361 on-base percentage, but I’m guessing he doesn’t even have that much power. Still, if nothing else, he’s got to be better than Mark Kotsay.

Barring a trade, I’m guessing this means there goes any chance for Caleb Gindl or Logan Schafer this season. Still, this seems like a good move.

The Brewers will have 30 days to negotiate with Aoki. Since the posting fee wasn’t all that much, I’m guessing it won’t be more than 2 or 3 million dollars a year for a couple seasons.

So, it seems like the Brewers have a new 4th/5th outfielder? Probably good insurance if Braun is out.

Here’s some video of Aoki set to something that sounds like it’s straight out of Top Gun.

Better yet, here is the original report of the story, translated from Japanese:

Aoki, the Brewers win the Yakult

Yakult 18, posting system (bidding) parent declared outfielder Aoki Major League aims to transfer using (29) winning baseball team has announced the Brewers.

Yakult was $ 2.5 million bid from Nippon Professional Baseball through the Major Mechanism in 17 days (about 200 million yen) was notified and had to reply and accept the same day. Brewers got a 30-day exclusive negotiating rights.

Headquartered in Milwaukee Brewers are in the area belong to the National League. Played a division title this season.

Through team Aoki, “You have to bid on great teams, I am honored,” commented.

Amazing.

And finally, because I saw this tonight for the first time, here’s video of John Mayer calling a baseball game in Japan.