After breaking down two White Sox outfielders on Monday and a pair of Cubs on Tuesday, our analysis of potential Phillies trade targets continues today with several members of the Milwaukee Brewers, a losing team in desperate need of young talent.
There’s a strange situation going on in Milwaukee, and we’re not referring to Ryan Braun’s perpetual problems with the league office. The Brewers have, top to bottom, one of the best and most talented lineups in the National League. They have the fourth-lowest bullpen ERA in baseball, at 2.97. And yet they’re 38-56, the second-worst team in the NL and one of the game’s most easily distinguishable sellers.
The Brewers are willing to part with a number of their talented relievers. Francisco Rodriguez, John Axford and Mike Gonzalez are all on the trading block, according to various internet reports, though CBS Sports reported earlier this month that late-inning righty Jim Henderson won’t be dealt.
Before specifically addressing each reliever, it should be noted that Milwaukee, like the Cubs, also has an outfielder that could be of value to the Phillies in a multi-player deal. He’s incredibly underrated and his name is Norichika Aoki.
Aoki, 30, came over from Japan last season. He was one of the more unheralded international signings, as his posting fee was just $2.5 million. (The fees to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish were each north of $51 million.)
Aoki is hitting .294/.360/.370 this season. The left-handed hitting outfielder is a wizard with the bat who is often moving towards first base before his swing is even finished.
Aoki knows the strike zone tremendously well and, while he isn’t as fast as Ben Revere, has significantly more pop. Last season Aoki hit 37 doubles and 10 homers. He was 30 for 38 swiping bags in 2012 but is just 10 for 20 this season.
Aoki can play center field and right field, but the presence of Carlos Gomez –- who in a just world would win a Gold Glove every year –- has limited Aoki to 19 career games in center.
More appealing than his bat and positional value, though, is Aoki’s contract. He made $1 million last season, is due $1.25 million this year and has a ridiculously cheap $1.5 million team option next season. An acquiring team would have him for 1½ years.
The Rangers have already considered Aoki, according to FOX Sports. Plenty of other teams will also be contacting Brewers GM Doug Melvin about him, if they haven’t already. Solid one- or two-hole hitters who play above average defense and have cheap contracts aren’t easy to find. It would take a strong offer from the Phillies to pry him away from Milwaukee.
As with the Cubs, the Phils could kill two birds with one stone by pursuing Aoki. They could fill holes in center and in the bullpen by trading Milwaukee a few young pitchers, as the Brewers’ glaring hole is in their starting rotation.
Unlike Tuesday’s proposed Cubs package, however, the Brewers’ relievers aren’t ideal fits for the Phils.
K-Rod has pitched exceptionally well this season (1.19 ERA, 9.9 K/9), but his control problems can surface at any time. We’re talking about a guy who’s walked 4.0 batters per nine innings since 2007. This is looking like the right year to have him -– Rodriguez has had an ERA under 3.00 in 10 of 12 seasons –- but one must also consider the baggage he’d bring.
Axford has similar control problems. He began the year by allowing nine runs in his first 3 1/3 innings, but has a 1.78 ERA since. Twenty-eight of his last 29 appearances have been scoreless. Still, his quirky mechanics can keep him from the strike zone at any given time, which could be potentially disastrous when combined with the Phillies’ current setup man, Antonio Bastardo. Axford is the priciest Brewers bullpen piece by a wide margin. He's due $5 million this season.
As for Gonzalez, he has good stuff but is just an older, more extreme version of Bastardo, both with the walks and the strikeouts. He’s not the ideal bullpen piece for the Phils.
The Brewers will have plenty of suitors for their late-inning relievers and therefore won’t deal them until close to the deadline unless they’re blown away. The Phillies need help immediately to stay in contention against a grueling second-half schedule, so that plays against what should be their intentions. A rocky start in the nine-game road trip that opens the second half could remove the Phils from contention by the week of July 31.
Milwaukee has one of the lowest-rated farm systems in the league and will be looking for pitching help in a trade. If the Phils offered, say, Jonathan Pettibone for Aoki and Rodriguez, Melvin would have to at least consider it. He’d be acquiring an inexpensive No. 4 starter with No. 3 potential for an expiring contract in K-Rod and a solid but not spectacular outfielder in Aoki. The Phils would likely also have to include a mid-tier prospect, one not on their top-10 lists but with some potential.
We’re not advocating a trade of Pettibone, just surmising what it might take to acquire two helpful pieces in a clear seller’s market. You’re not going to fill holes by trading away question marks who are, at best, two years away from the majors.
Thursday, the series concludes with a look at every remaining outfielder and bullpen piece on teams destined to sell.