2014 Statistics: .285/.349/.360, 22 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 17 SB, 104 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR
2015 Age: 33
Norichika Aoki arrived in the US from the NPB in 2012, signing with the Brewers and joining an up-and-coming outfield that already contained Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez. In his rookie year, Aoki did not disappoint – he posted a 113 wRC+ with 10 homers and 30 stolen bases, eventually placing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race. After another solid season in 2013 (103 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR), Milwaukee, looking to make space for young outfielder Khris Davis, traded Aoki to the Royals. The Royals had themselves a nice young outfield, but they were looking for a consistent everyday right fielder to pair with Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon. Obviously, this worked out quite well for the Royals.
Aoki maintained his 2013 numbers and validated Kansas City’s high hopes for him, providing solid defense and a good bat atop their lineup. Aoki continued to display his terrific ability to get on base in 2014, as his .349 OBP ranked second on the Royals (and would’ve ranked first on the Yankees among regulars). While he’s been criticized here and there for his defense, he posted a positive UZR in his first two seasons, and did so again in 2014, giving the Royals one of the best defensive outfields in the game.
While Aoki certainly will help a team in 2015, it likely won’t be the Yankees. They’re full up for the next few years in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran, and they just signed Chris Young to a one-year contract to presumably serve as the team’s fourth outfielder. Even if New York did sign Aoki, that would give the Yankees a very light-hitting outfield (not to mention an outfield made up of all lefties). Aoki displayed almost no power last year, and while no one ever would have called him a slugger, he's basically lost all pop since 2012 (his ISO of .075 was the fifth worst in the majors in 2014). While Young isn’t as dependable as Aoki, he will at least potentially provide some right-handed power off the bench next year, something Aoki cannot do. If the Yankees do want to improve their outfield and push Beltran towards a more permanent DH role, a heavier hitter than Aoki (Melky Cabrera, Torii Hunter, or perhaps Alex Rios) would be a better fit for the team’s needs.
All of this likely means that Aoki is not coming to the Bronx next year. With him looking for a three-year deal, that further should discourage the Yankees from pursuing him. If there was some way he could be had on a one-year deal, he might be worth considering. But Aoki is almost certainly looking for a starting job, which is something the Yankees could not guarantee. And with all the other holes in their roster, they should certainly not spend any money that they could spend on the likes of Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, or some other infield help. Overall, while Aoki is a nice player, he’s not a great fit for the Yankees, and is probably looking for more than the Yankees should be willing to dish out.