With Carlos Beltran seemingly back from injury, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner locks for starting jobs and Chris Young having stayed on a one-year deal, it appears the Yankees outfield is set for 2014. But should they still add another piece before spring training?
I think so, and a candidate for that piece should definitely be formal Royals outfielder Norichika Aoki. Fans might remember him as a constant presence in the Royals' lineup during the recent playoff run, but he's been good for several years now, going back to his first two seasons with the Brewers.
So why should the Yankees go after him? A lot of reasons, but mostly because he would...
1. Make Them Elite When it Comes to Stealing Bases: Granted, Aoki was only successful on 17/25 stolen base attempts last season, but considering the Yankees' weak offense, it's likely he'd get a lot more chances if he played for New York. So, assuming he'll improve if that happens, the Yankees have the opportunity to create a dominant running game if they choose to sign him. Ellsbury was successful on 39/44 chances and Gardner on 21/26 in 2014, so they're already proven at the art. Add on Didi Gregorius, who also looks like he could run if asked to, and the Yankees have a nice quartet of productive legs.
2. Give the Yankees a reliable right fielder: It was nice and all when Young was homering in every at-bat last September, but is that really what the Yankees should expect from him now? He hit just .205/.283/.346 with the Mets before that sudden success, and since Beltran's not one to stay healthy all year, shouldn't the Yankees make a Plan B? Aoki's a good defender and, judging by his recent .285/.349/.360 line, a better hitter than the other two right-field options, so he seems like a logical choice if that's indeed the path they choose.
3. Not be an Oriole: Rant Sports' Vinny Lanni wrote Sunday why the Orioles should pursue Aoki, arguing he would help take some of the load off after Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis' departures. Though some will disagree, the Yankees are still very much alive when it comes to next season's AL East, so why take the chance of letting a somewhat fallen opponent build back up? Aoki is projected to only cost about $7-8 million a year for two to three years, so inking him couldn't hurt anything that much if it failed. Doing so would still better the Yankees, but nonetheless, it would more importantly worsen the Orioles.
To put it simply, Aoki would be a quick fix to many of the Yankees problems. Seriously, isn't it nice to imagine a lineup in which Alex Rodriguez isn't starting and Beltran's a DH? I know that may be a waste of money, but I think we can agree the Yankees have already done plenty of that (see Mark Teixeira's contract and injuries and CC Sabathia's contract and injuries for examples) in the past. No need to punish themselves for it when they can still win something.