Royals acquire outfielder Aoki from Milwaukee; Beltran remains an option
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals indeed landed a right fielder to bolster their offense. But it wasn’t Carlos Beltran. At least not yet.
Staying aggressive as the Beltran sweepstakes play out, Royals general manager Dayton Moore landed Milwaukee right fielder Norichika Aoki on Thursday for left-hander Will Smith.
But in a conference call, Moore said the Aoki trade would not impede the Royals’ pursuit of Beltran.
“The off-season is still very fluid,” Moore said. “We still have a need to acquire a middle-of-the-lineup bat.”
On the surface, adding Aoki and Beltran might lead some observers to think the Royals then would have to trade designated hitter Billy Butler to open the DH spot for Beltran, whose defensive skills in the outfield have diminished in recent years.
But another scenario could play out if the Royals also land Beltran: They could move Aoki to center field for the oft-injured Lorenzo Cain, put Beltran in right field and keep Butler. Aoki played mostly right field for the Brewers the past two years but was a center fielder when he played in Japan for eight years.
Moore seemed open to that scenario.
“There are a lot of different scenarios that can still play out,” Moore said. “… We will remain open-minded.
“We view Norichika as a guy who can play all three outfield positions.”
This much we know: The Royals intend to bat Aoki lead off and move Alex Gordon down in the order. Aoki is a prototypical leadoff hitter with a healthy .355 on-base percentage over the past two seasons. He also has above-average speed — he was second in the major leagues in infield hits with 40.
Aoki, 31, who hit .286 last season with eight homers and 37 RBIs, also stole 20 bases but was caught 12 times.
“We feel we can improve that stolen-base percentage,” Moore said.
And Aoki, a left-handed hitter, hit .339 against left-handers, the top average against lefties by a left-handed hitter in the majors.
Aoki also comes affordable — he is finishing up a three-year contract that will pay him $1.95 million in 2014. The downside is that he will become a free agent after the season.
Meanwhile, the Royals are still believed to be a front-runner for Beltran, who visited Kansas City earlier this week.
But Moore deflected questions about how well that visit went.
“There’s nothing I can really say about that,” Moore said. “We’re going to try to continue to improve our ball club.”
Smith was 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA last season after making the conversion to the bullpen. There had been internal discussions this season about giving Smith another chance at the rotation.
“He is a tough competitor who can pitch out of the pen or in the rotation,” Moore said. “We don’t have a lot of left-handed depth down there, but we felt this was a deal we had to make.”
Moore also indicated the Royals were not done maneuvering.
“If the season opened tomorrow, we feel that with the addition of (Jason) Vargas and Aoki, we have improved the ball club,” Moore said. “But this off-season remains fluid. I don’t see this (team) as complete.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.