Cleveland Indians Should Consider Free Agent Nori Aoki For Outfield Help
The loss of Michael Brantley to start the season means Nori Aoki makes more sense than ever for the Tribe.
Veteran outfielder Nori Aoki will be 34 years old next season, but he’s hardly shown signs of his age since his major league debut in 2012. His ability to hit for average as well as his speed and defense would make him a great fit for the Cleveland Indians, especially given Monday’s news that Michael Brantley will miss time at the beginning of the year, after having off-season shoulder surgery.
Aoki began his career with the Milwaukee Brewers, but Tribe fans are probably most familiar with him for his 2014 season with the Kansas City Royals. That year, Aoki hit .285/.349/.360, swiping 17 bases along the way. Last season with the San Francisco Giants, Aoki produced similar results: .287/.353/.380, 14 stolen bases and five home runs.
Brantley is expected to miss at least the first month or so of the season following shoulder surgery, which makes acquiring Aoki more vital to the Tribe than ever. Outside of Brantley, the remaining outfield spots had already appeared to be anyone’s job to win – and now left field has become a question as well.
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Even once Brantley returns, Aoki could easily find a permanent home in the lineup. Lonnie Chisenhall performed admirably in the second half of the season as a right fielder, but he will have to post similar numbers in Spring Training to keep the job. Abraham Almonte stands a chance, and players like Jerry Sands and Zach Walters are always candidates for bench spots, but Brantley was the Indians’ only proven hitter in the outfield. They could desperately use Aoki’s bat to add some depth to the bottom of the lineup.
The Tribe also has two top outfield prospects in Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, but even if being optimistic, neither of the two are likely to land with Cleveland until September at the earliest – and that would only happen if Zimmer puts up numbers that make it impossible to keep him down any longer. In addition to service time considerations, the Indians have never been a team that rushes position players through the system – no matter how good they are or what the team needs at the major league level. That means they should be looking for help from outside.
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All of the signs point to Aoki being a great fit for the Indians, especially now that Brantley’s start to the season will be delayed. Aoki should be relatively inexpensive – something in the range of $10 million for two years wouldn’t be too much for the Indians to gamble on, even if he is an older player. The front office has said that they have about $15 million to work with this winter, so it would still leave them plenty of cash to make other moves. Aoki certainly won’t be the only piece the Tribe needs, but he’s a great place to start.