The Kansas City Royals have acquired outfielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee to be their leadoff hitter, which also means the Brewers are poised to shift Ryan Braun to right field.
Milwaukee received left-hander Will Smith, who spent most of the past couple seasons shuffling between Kansas City and Triple-A Omaha, and between the bullpen and the starting rotation.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Thursday he envisions Aoki batting at the top of the order, just as he did with the Brewers. Aoki hit .286 with eight homers, 37 RBIs and 20 steals last season.
Aoki gives Kansas City a prototypical leadoff hitter, which will allow left fielder Alex Gordon — who has more power — to slide down in the order and have more chances to drive in runs. Aoki, who turns 32 next month, also ranked second in the majors with 40 infield hits, and .339 against left-handed pitching, the best average by a left-handed hitter in the big leagues. He also struck out just 40 times in 674 plate appearances.
The Royals had already bolstered their starting rotation this offseason by agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal with Jason Vargas. Now they have acquired the leadoff hitter they've long coveted.
Moore said they are still working on adding an impact bat. Veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, who began his career with the Royals, spent time in Kansas City earlier this week. He's reportedly seeking a three-year, $48 million deal.
By moving Aoki, the Brewers could head into next season with rookie Khris Davis in left field, Gold Glove-winner Carlos Gomez in center and Braun moving to right field. Braun is expected back in 2014 after his season-ending, 65-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug agreement. Davis emerged down the stretch last season, filling in for Braun in left by hitting .279 with 11 homers.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had said there were discussions inside the organization about whether to move Braun across the outfield.
"The thinking is it's a little easier to find left fielders than it is right fielders," Melvin said in late September. "If you're trying to field right field with a platoon situation, then both guys have to be able to throw well. Both guys have to be good defenders."
Melvin said he's been watching Smith for a couple years. He called Smith a "24-year-old, big, physical left-hander who we feel can be part of our staff."
Smith went 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 35 games, including 17 starts, during his time in Kansas City. The Royals have a deep bullpen and Smith pitched primarily in relief, going 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA last season, which ultimately made him expendable in a trade.
The Brewers finished last season with five right-handed starters, headlined by Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse, and Smith gives them an option for a left-hander to slot into the rotation. He went 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA in 16 starts two years ago.
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