The acquisition of Nori Aoki by the San Francisco Giants speaks volumes for what I wrote yesterday, in terms of Brian Sabean being patient and waiting for just the right opportunity to come along before he acts. Just as he did last year in signing Michael Morse to a one-year deal, Sabean inked Aoki, an opponent of the Giants as recently as last October in the World Series, to a one-season deal reportedly worth four million dollars, with a $700,000 buyout clause.
The transaction has many positive angles because Aoki is an accomplished team player, with an array of tools that seem tailored to AT&T Park. He is described as a prototypical contact hitter for his ability to spray the ball to all fields, while utilizing his speed to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He has a .287 batting average and exactly three more strikeouts than walks in his MLB career, 144-141.
Though he has only nineteen home runs in his three years playing in the bigs, he had 79 doubles and thirteen triples, with 130 RBIs over the three seasons. Also significant are his 67 stolen bases, fifty of them while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012-13.
Nori Aoki has speed, a great eye in the batter’s box and he knows what it’s like to play on a team of hard-nosed professionals.
This element somewhat balances his paucity of home runs, because what he lacks in clout, he will make for in audacity. Besides, AT&T Park has a nasty habit of turning clout into doubt for some players.
The ability to create runs without benefit of even a hit, let alone a big fly, would accurately describe the current Giants team, and you know what? Not only is that all right, it’s optimum. Being able to manufacture runs via one’s wits, is a much more effective means of beating Clayton Kershaw, than relying on someone to strut up to the plate and blast a tape-measure shot to win a game at AT&T Park. Most of the time, it’s not even about winning a game; it’s about scoring a doggoned run against K.
Though there has been discussion about Aoki’s defensive liabilities, with poor route-selection being an issue, he did win three consecutive Gold Gloves from 2006-08 with the Yakult Swallows, and has a .990 lifetime fielding percentage since he left Japan at the end of the 2011 season. In eighteen games in left field, eight of them as a starter, Aoki has not made an error.
While a member of the Swallows, Aoki played center field, so his transition to left field, whereas not optimum, should not pose serious logistical problems. With Angel Pagan back in center field, this should allow Gregor Blanco to routinely spell both, so as to keep the lineup well-rested over the course of the 162-game haul.
Angel Pagan in the outfield at Yankee Stadium 9/21/13. Photo by Denise Walos
As has been repeatedly said of Casey McGehee replacing Pablo Sandoval at third base, no one is going to forget the Panda, but they will become acquainted with the burly replacement with a penchant for getting his way at the hot corner.
No one who ever saw Michael Morse play at AT&T Park will forget the dynamic presence that he brought with him, but that doesn’t mean Nori Aoki will be a target for pigeons in left field either. On the contrary, he brings with him that indomitable spirit of hustle and teamwork, in the same mold as Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan.
Well-played, Brian Sabean.