So, on Thursday morning, I wrote out today’s script to bring back our yearly “Meet Your New Giants” theme to talk about a guy whose signing I really liked.
And then the game happened. Quick adjustments to the comic were made, and now, I’m going to divide this post into two parts.
Nori Aoki, Giant
The story going around Nori Aoki’s signing with the San Francisco Giants is that the free agent turned down longer and better offers elsewhere to become a Giant. That’s kind of nice, after the Giants’ top free agent targets (Pablo Sandoval, Jon Lester, James Shields) spurned them. But while Aoki’s story is nice, the reality is that he was a fallback option for the Giants compared to an offseason with big expectations. That tarnishes what might be one of the steals of the offseason.
Aoki was a pretty big star in Japan before coming over to America in 2012, and he bucked the trend of many Asian hitters posted into America by going straight to the majors. In 2012, in hitter-friendly Miller Park, he teased being an interesting power-speed player, with 10 home runs and 30 steals. He went 8 and 20 in 2013 with Milwaukee. Then he went to Kansas City, and hit all of 1 while stealing just 17 bases, though he played in just 132 games (he played 150+ in each of the previous two). The trends didn’t look great for him over those three years, though his batting average and OBP were both effectively the same across all three years.
With Kansas City, his OPS+ dipped to 98, after being an even 100 the year before.
What the Giants get in Aoki is athleticism, and pretty solid on-base threat with good speed still, a defensive presence in left field (at least, that was the plan)…and the unspoken part was a nice insurance plan in case Angel Pagan got hurt again, a guy who could handle either center or the leadoff spot in the order, or do both.
In AT&T Park, Aoki is tantalizing. While his power will likely still suffer as much as it did at Kaufmann stadium, the corners in AT&T Park offer Aoki more doubles and triples. While Aoki’s overall power numbers were down in 2014, he had a career high 6 triples, so the speed is still there. And while there’s debate about where Aoki will hit in the lineup, with projections having him at leadoff, with Pagan batting third to replace Sandoval, or Aoki batting 7th or 8th, few disagree that Aoki will provide production, albeit of a limited, non-power kind, wherever he’s hitting. Aoki also (presumably) gave the Giants a full-time left fielder, hoping to end a parade of part-timers, offensive/defensive platoons, disgraced PED users and mismatched guys that had somehow helped the Giants to three World Series in 5 years. Seriously, left field has been a mess.
The reality is, Aoki at $4.7M with an option for a second year is a damn steal. This is a guy few people don’t consider an everyday player. Not everyone has to be a star, and the Giants are an exemplary example of that when it comes to signing players. He’s on the wrong side of the 30 hill, but the deal isn’t one that will considerably come back to bite the team or cause regrets. Frankly, this deal feels a lot like the Aubrey Huff deal in 2010, and could be a steal of the offseason.
And let’s hope so, because…
What To Do With Pence Out
Pence isn’t gone for good. The people expecting him to come back Mid-April are crazy, and I’m concerned about hoping he’d be back before the end of May, despite the 8-week prognostications. He’s got a lot to come back from to pull that off. So the Giants need a right fielder.
Scratch that, they need a left fielder, because Aoki is capable in right in the meantime. Fine. Back to…scratching together whatever the Giants can do.
The options are not exciting. Gregor Blanco is always in the mix, and he’s okay, but never exciting. It was a surprise to me to note that 2014 was his best year, hitting-wise, as a Giant. HIs OPS of .707 was his best, and he had an OPS+ of 103, his first time over 100 with the Giants. It came on the heels of his best year for power as a Giant (though not wildly better than previous years). He’s about as Replacement Level as it gets, and is very platoon-necessary. I’m thankful for all he’s been as a Giant, and yet, I’m hardly ready to anoint him an everyday starter.
Juan Perez lurks as a .170 hitter from last year, but as a kid who has produced in the minors with some tantalizing speed and power combos. Travis Ishikawa will always be remembered as a left fielder, even though he’s not, but you have to mention his name for the offensive production. Justin Maxwell signed as a minor league free agent just to show you what it’d be like to have a poor man’s Adam Dunn.
It’s not exciting. The result that Giants fans will get to watch will not be exciting. But there is one small thing to be said.
The fact this happened in Spring Training gives fans a real competition, a group of players to watch, and to hope for a surprise.
Will this be the year that Gary Brown figures out how to break out? To show the side that put together a magical season in San Jose…albeit back in 2011? He looked better in Fresno in 2014. He still wasn’t gettin the walks or hits he needs to be truly successful, but he was running more (still needs to get caught less). He’ll not likely to ever get a better chance to be a productive major leaguer than this spring…
Well, at least there’s something to watch now. Now, if the Giants’ starters could not give up major runs everytime they pitch…that’d make it easier to watch.