We're slightly more than a week away from the trade deadline, and Norichika Aoki is one player whose name keeps coming up. He's under team control for this year and next (a club option for 2014), so he could carry some significant value in the coming weeks.
Aoki's relatively unique situation, however, makes assigning him a value a significant challenge. His playing time in Japan makes him much more experienced than your average second-year outfielder, but he's also older than a lot of people probably realize (31). As a possible comparison for his performance and career situation, I'd suggest 2009 Juan Pierre.
It's not a perfect comparison, of course: Pierre is a much better basestealer than Aoki (having stolen as many as 68 in a season), while Aoki has more power (Pierre has never hit more than three home runs) and his throwing arm likely makes him more valuable defensively.
With the exception of a few home runs, though, at the plate they're not dissimilar: Both are frequent slap-hitters who use their speed to get on. Aoki's OBP is 65 points higher than his batting average, and Pierre's is slightly less at 48. In his age 30 and 31 seasons in MLB Aoki is a .291/.357/.406 hitter, while Pierre hit .295/.346/.360 with 70 stolen bases.
As luck would have it, immediately following his age 31 season Pierre was traded from the Dodgers to the White Sox. Pierre had two years left on a five year deal at the time, and in exchange for him the Dodgers received pitchers John Ely and Jon Link. Ely was a former third round pick coming off a great season in the minors and John Sickels listed him as a C prospect, but he never really reached his potential. Link was a veteran minor league reliever. The Dodgers ate most of Pierre's salary in the deal.
The Dodgers may not have gotten much for Pierre, but his acquiring team didn't get much either: Pierre is hitting just .278/.332/.328 over three and a half seasons since moving from Los Angeles to Chicago. He's retained some value as a base stealer, but the fact that the Marlins signed him to a one-year, $1.6 million deal last winter says everything you need to hear about how he's aged. Pierre turns 36 in August and his career is more or less over at this point.
So, if you like depressing takeaways, I have a pair of them for you:
- Recent history suggests that if the Brewers do decide to trade Norichika Aoki, a fair asking price is probably one mid-level pitching prospect. We might be talking about a pitcher to compare to Jed Bradley or Drew Gagnon.
- With that said, this (admittedly very small) sample would also suggest that Aoki's potential value may also never be higher than it is right now.