Padres Free Agent Target: Nori Aoki
By Tim Richer
The San Diego Padres were dead last in the majors in runs last year. They were 38 runs behind the next closest team, the Braves, and 238 behind the top run scoring offense, the Angels. Despite their lacking production they finished the year third in the NL West and just four games under .500. This suggests that the Padres just need to be an average to at least be competitive. Now that’s easier said than done, but they can start with the basics.
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The process of scoring runs is fairly simple, you get men on base and then they’re driven in. Aside from solo home runs this is the only way to do it, and when you play half your games in the stadium that allowed the fewest homers in 2014 it may be the only effective process. There are 2 parts of the equation, but for now we’ll focus on the first. Getting on base. The Padres were dead last in On-Base Percentage last season, which as you can imagine negatively impacted their run scoring ability.
That leads us to the focus of this article Nori Aoki. Aoki could be the perfect top of the order bat that the Padres are looking for. He may not be a flashy name, like his teammate on the AL Champion Royals, Billy Butler who our Billy Brost looked at yesterday, but he did finish 40th in the majors in OBP and 39th in batting average last year and would have been second and first in those categories respectively on the Padres.
The Padres de-facto lead off hitter Everth Cabrera has complied a .254/.319/.335 slash line with an OPS+ of 89 over the past 3 seasons, while Aoki has hit .287/.353/.387 with an OPS+ of 103 in that same span of time. While it’s not superstar numbers, the stark contrast from Cabrera reveals some of the problems the Padres have had with offense over the past few seasons. That production will not just help the top of the order, but help the abysmal outfield. Even with a strong season from Seth Smith, the Padre outfield collectively slashed .235/.305/.360.
Aoki isn’t without his flaws though. His defense was made headlines during the World Series and lead to the Royals starting Jarrod Dyson in his place despite Aoki’s far superior bat. If the Padres do sign Aoki, he’ll likely see a lot of AT&T’s right field, something Ned Yost wanted no part of. It’s something A.J. Preller is going to need to consider going into his first off season as GM. How much does he value defense, and is willing to sacrifice defense to bring some sort o offensive production to San Diego.
All in all, the Padres need to score more runs to help out their tremendous pitching, but they need to do it in an affordable manner. Aoki will be 33 on opening day and isn’t going to command a massive deal. I could see him fitting in perfectly here and breathing some much needed life into the lead off hole in Bud Black‘s lineup. While they may still need to add a bat or two to drive him in, he’s a great start.