Now, this is coming from a guy who has made a lot of crazy calls and claims in his time writing on this site. But there is no doubt in my mind that based on his performance this season, the Brewers would be wise to lock him up for at least another 3 years. Norichika Aoki has been the most valuable player on this team during their second half run. Is that a crazy statement? Maybe. Does he deserve to get paid based off of this small sample size? Absolutely.
During his time in Japan, Aoki only failed to reach a .300 batting average twice. His rookie season (.200 in 15 AB’s) and his final season in Japan (.292). The dude recorded over 1,000 hits by the start of his 6th season as a starter for the Yakult Swallows. Aoki hit 84 HR’s and drove in 385 runs in 6 full seasons. Those are not the stats of a guy who is just a “fluke”.
Right this second, we have Nori locked up through next season, and the team has an option on him for 2014. So, that is not too bad. But by the time that option rolls around, he will only be 32 years old. Which, by American baseball standards is almost at the end of your glory days. By Japanese standards, he will still have 3 to 4 solid years left in the tank. For the sake of comparison, Ichiro Suzuki had 200 hits in each season from the age of 32 until he turned 36. Now Nori is not Ichiro, I know that and you know that, but they both came over to the states late in their career and were both the top players in Japan prior to leaving. Take that for what it is worth.
As the lead-off hitter in 2012, Aoki has a .352 on-base percentage. The Brewers have not had a consistent hitter in the #1 spot in…well, I can’t actually remember. Maybe Scott Podsednik? Over the past few seasons, we have gone from Rickie Weeks to Carlos Gomez to Corey Hart and back again, none of whom really excelled as a #1.
The fact is, playoff teams have to have to have a solid lead-off hitter. In my humble, and slightly neurotic opinion, Aoki should be batting at the top of our order through 2015. Keep in mind, that he has only started 112 games including today. Imagine a full season…
Since Corey Hart is clearly the teams first baseman of the future, Aoki gives us a solid defensive presence in Right Field. So far he has 8 outfield assists, 2 double plays, and has only committed 3 errors in 228 chances. Corey Hart only played in the outfield in 49 games, he had 82 chances for putouts, and made 2 errors. Aoki is a major upgrade.
Let us also realize that by signing him this winter, the Brewers will be getting him at a steal. If they wait until next season to try and re-sign him, it may be too late. Something tells me that this guy is on the verge of being an All-Star outfielder. By looking at the Brewers history of contract signings, they tend to lean towards signing long-term deals pretty early to avoid Prince Fielder-esque situations. This bodes well for retaining Aoki’s services for the long-term.
Her are the stats: .285 BA, .352 OBP, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 28 SB, 52 K’s (in 552 plate appearances), and 34 doubles. THAT…is a lead-off hitter ladies and gents. If this team is going to make a run at the pennant, we need Aoki. Even though we have him, we need to make sure he is a part of the core of our team while we are still able to sniff the World Series.
In closing, we need Norichika Aoki. He deserves a contract. He deserves his own sushi bar in the right field bleachers. More importantly, we as Brewers fans deserve Aoki.
Update: In Tonight’s game against the Red’s, Aoki has a HR, 2 RBI’s, 3 hits, and 2 runs scored. Pushing his season average to .289 … Somebody pay the man!!!!