Leftridge: Royals Offseason Moves A-Ok (Like the New Outfielder Aoki– Get it?)

Clearly, Omar Infante is thrilled to be a Royal

Clearly, Omar Infante is thrilled to be a Royal

Well, the Chiefs have locked up a playoff spot for official, and they’ve got an important game this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts (who likely figure to be KC’s first round opponent, too), but I’m sure another writer will post 1,200 confusing words about it all on this site as well as others. (If it makes you feel any better, our esteemed Editor in Chief will make KCC’s version slightly more palatable.)

Therefore, I won’t waste my time with such redundancies.

Instead, I’d like to briefly wrap up baseball’s winter meetings, where our own Kansas City Royals mostly played it cool. Unlike last year’s splash—where they traded away Babe Ruth Jr. for two years of James Shields and picked up Ervin “Reclamation Project” Santana for one—this was a much more subdued excursion. And quite honestly, that’s probably for the best.

The closest thing to an immediate impact player who the Royals were even seriously talking to was the beloved Carlos Beltran. (Apparently.) Then ‘Los went and signed with the New York Yankees, who are desperately trying to finish last in the AL East, it would seem. They gave him too much money—as they did with Brian McCann, as the most ASSUREDLY did with Jacoby Ellsbury—so goodbye Beltran, have fun on your ridiculous laughingstock of a “contender.”

Jason Vargas  press conferenceENTER JASON VARGAS.

Okay, so that should NEVER be in all-caps, and no, his signing wasn’t a result of losing out on Beltran… it WAS, however, the first move the Royals made this offseason, and probably the least arousing.

The 30-year-old Vargas is a perfectly average innings eater who has spent time with the Marlins, the Mets, the Mariners and the Angels. He is also SO indistinguishable that I promise I will call him “Justin” or “Jared” no less than 150 times over the next four seasons. He’s a perfectly acceptable fourth or fifth starter, but he’s definitely not a number two. You know, a number two like the aforementioned Ervin Santana. But alas, the Royals can’t afford to pay someone (Santana, perhaps?) Santana-type money. They can, however, afford the $32mil they gave Justin/Jason, so ashes to ashes and so forth. Welcome to the team, Vargas. I look forward to enjoying your mediocrity.

I think this signing was a C.

Not completely satisfied with a lengthy contract to a back-end rotation starter, though, general manager Dayton Moore PRESSED ON.

In a move that was much less yawn-inducing, he traded perennial pitching prospect Will Smith to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Norichika Aoki. I liked this move for two reasons:

1) While I was intrigued by Smith’s skillset—specifically, his recent affection for striking everyone out—he seemed to be one of those guys who, for whatever reason, would never get a proper look in Kansas City. A “Johnny Giovatella of the Mound,” if you will. I’ve always been of the opinion that, if you’ve got someone like this but you don’t believe in them, let them have a shot elsewhere. (Provided you get something decent in return. And I believe—in this case, at least—they did.)

Norichika+Aoki+Milwaukee+Brewers+v+Texas+Rangers+ltBiP_9TpLax2)  Aoki—a 31 year old, two-year MLB veteran from Lubbock, Texas Hyuga, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan—is your quintessential lead-off hitter, someone who will allow Alex Gordon to move down in the lineup where he can, you know, be strong and drive in runs and shit. He’s fast, plays above-average defense, gets on base better than anyone currently on the team, and he rarely strikes out. It’s been a while since KC had someone who did all of the little, fundamental things right. Aoki is a welcome addition.

I’d give this move a 7.5 out of 10.

BUT WAIT THERE’S (a little) MORE.

Second base has been a gaping, disgusting, disease-riddled cavern of terror since… well, basically since Frank White retired in 1990. Jose “Chico” Lind was a raging, coked-up sex pervert. Carlos Febles was a sorrowful flop. Jose Offerman was Jose Offerman, and, holy shit, I forgot about Tony Graffanino. TONY G!

Well, ol’ Dayton finally decided to put an end to this reign of nonsense by signing the best available free agent second baseman not named Robinson Cano.

ENTER OMAR INFANTE.

(Ok, all-caps still probably not warranted, but a little more so than with Johnny Vargas.)

Infante—who has spent most of his life with the division rival Detroit Tigers—is a slightly-above average defender who NEVER, EVER STRIKES OUT. He gets on base at a decent clip overall, but he always puts the ball in play. And for a team who has eternally been plagued by an inability to move runners, this is an invaluable skill. He’s a tremendous upgrade over anyone else who has manned second in the past, oh, 20 or so years, so this move is definitely solid.

I’d give it four thumbs up. (Out of five… I guess?)

Valencia Topps Heritage FAnd finally, the Royals traded last year’s 28-year-old rookie phenom David Lough to the Baltimore Orioles for infielder Danny Valencia. Valencia is 29, and slightly more experienced, but this is mostly a “team-needs” move. The Royals now have a crowded OF—you know, until Lorenzo Cain gets hurt—and Valencia does something KC’s CURRENT third-baseman can’t do: crush LHP. (The figures are pretty staggering, actually. Valencia’s career line against LHP is .329/.367/.513. while Moustakas has hit .222/.275/.332.)

So this move is a push, essentially. I’ll miss Lough, but he was 28 and unlikely to get much better. (In fact, most analysts would have him regressing next season.)

All in all, it’s been a fairly eventful offseason. Boring and unspectacular, perhaps, but conservatively thorough. The Royals are filling needs in an unglamorous manner; it may not be sexy, but it’s baseball, by God.

I’m on Twitter, @StanfordWhistle

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