Chicago Cubs Should Sign Outfielder Nori Aoki


By bringing in manager Joe Maddon and starting pitcher Jon Lester this offseason, the Cubs signaled to the baseball world that they want to compete, and they want to compete soon.  They also brought back Jason Hammel, signed catcher David Ross, and traded for catcher Miguel Montero.

Even with these additions, the Cubs’ success in 2015 will rely heavily on the success of their young talent; Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant will all be playing in their first full Major League seasons.

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Naturally, each will need to make adjustments to the league, as we saw late last season in Alcantara and Baez.  Alcantara hit just .205/.254/.367 in 300 plate appearances with a 31% strikeout rate.  Surpassing Alcantara’s high strikeout rate, Baez struck out an astounding 41.5% of the time in 2014 while batting just .169/.227/.324 over 52 games and 229 plate appearances.

Soler hit very well during limited major league action, posting a .292/.330/.573 and slugging five homers in 97 plate appearances.  But even with his success, he struck out 24.7% of time.  Bryant is expected to whiff a lot too.  Despite the video game numbers he put up in the minors in 2014, he posted high strikeout rates between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, including a strikeout rate of 28.9% with Triple-A Iowa this summer.

Sep 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (9) after lining out in the second inning in the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The underlying numbers and not pretty, either.  When it comes to putting the ball in play, Fangraphs keeps track of how often players swing, and how often they put the ball in play on those swings.  From there, they calculate each player’s contact rate. Baez, who made contact just 59.0% of the time when he swung in 2014, along with Alcantara (70.7%), and Soler (72.3%) all would have been ranked in the bottom 13 in all of Major League Baseball if they had qualified, and Baez would have been dead last.  By a healthy margin.

This is to say that there will likely be a lot of swings and misses in 2015, and the Cubs need someone who can consistently put the ball in play, and potentially mentor the Cubs’ blossoming stars and help them cut down on their free-swinging tendencies.

As it stands, the Cubs could most use this help in the outfield.  The current outfield picture looks hazy at best heading into next season, with very few realistic options; Chris Coghlan, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, and Matt Szczur are the only outfielders on the 40-man roster right now.

There will be a lot of swings and misses in 2015, and the Cubs need someone who can consistently put the ball in play.

Of this group, only Coghlan, who posted a .283/.352/.452 line with nine homers, a .353 wOBA, and 2.2 WAR over 432 plate appearances, and Soler were above-average hitters at the plate in 2014.  Enter Nori Aoki.  In 2014, Aoki’s contact rate was 90.8%; he swung and missed just 9.2% of the time.  This ranked 7th best in all of Major League Baseball last year.

Aside from being very talented at getting the bat on the ball, Aoki offers a very balanced plate approach that the Cubs could use in their lineup, especially with all the strikeouts they’ll inevitably tally in 2015.  Over the course of his career thus far, Aoki has posted nearly identical 7.8% walk and 8.0% strikeout rates.  Last year, Aoki struck out an outstanding 8.9% of the time, which ranked fifth in all of baseball.  Additionally, he posted a .285 batting average and .710 OPS while stealing 17 bases.

The Cubs 24.2% strikeout rate ranked 30th in the league in strikeout rate last season, so they certainly could use Aoki in that department.  Additionally, signing a player like Aoki would seem to align with the Cubs’ current plan to acquire patient hitters.  Earlier this offseason, the Cubs traded pitcher Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for second baseman Tommy La Stella, who sported a robust 10.0% walk rate and a very solid 11.1% strikeout rate in his rookie campaign last year.

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  • Aoki also fills a Cubs need for decent defensive outfielders.  Though primarily playing right field for the duration of his career thus far, Aoki has played both center and left, and he seems to be an adequate corner outfielder.  With that said, his ability to play a reserve role in center field while sharing starts in the corners would be big for the Cubs, as only Sweeney and Alcantara, who played center in 2014 for the first time, can man the position.

    On paper, Aoki seems like he would be a good fit.  And with some predicting he’ll receive just a two-year deal for less than $20 million, he is a low-cost, potentially high-reward veteran on the market.  He has not received much attention in the free agent market so far, which could present the Cubs an opportunity to jump in and make one of the best low-key signings of the 2015 offseason.