The Milwaukee Brewers have traded outfielder Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals, a move that likely means Ryan Braun will move from left to right field in 2014.
Milwaukee received left-hander Will Smith, who spent most of the past couple seasons shuffling between Kansas City and triple-A Omaha, and between the bullpen and the starting rotation.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Thursday he's been watching Smith for a couple years. He called Smith a "24-year-old, big, physical left-hander who we feel can be part of our staff."
Aoki gives Kansas City a prototypical leadoff hitter, which will allow left fielder Alex Gordon, who has more power, to slide down in the order and have more chances to drive in runs.
Aoki, who turns 32 next month, also ranked second in the majors with 40 infield hits, and .339 against left-handed pitching, the best average by a left-handed hitter in the big leagues. He also struck out just 40 times in 674 plate appearances.
"We like his energy, we like his work ethic. He's a pro," Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "We had a chance to see him a lot in Japan coming up. … We'll see how it plays out."
Aoki, who is in the last year of his contract, is due $1.25 million US this season. He can also make up to $1,087,500 in performance bonuses based on starts and games played.
The Royals had already bolstered their starting rotation this off-season by agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal with Jason Vargas. Now they have acquired the leadoff hitter they've long coveted, and Moore said they are still working on adding an impact bat.
Moore said he's still working on adding an impact bat, especially in the outfield. Veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, who began his career with the Royals, spent time in Kansas City earlier this week. He's reportedly seeking a three-year, $48 million deal.
"They're far and few," Moore said. "That being said, that's an area we're trying to pursue, but let me say this, we definitely feel all our offensive players are still improving. They have not reached their peak performance. They're going to continue to get better."
By moving Aoki, the Brewers could head into next season with Davis in left field, Gold Glove-winner Carlos Gomez in centre and Braun moving to right field.
Braun is expected back in 2014 after his season-ending, 65-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug agreement. Rookie outfielder Khris Davis emerged down the stretch last season, filling in for Braun in left field by hitting .279 with 11 homers.
"The thinking is it's a little easier to find left fielders than it is right fielders," Melvin said in late September. "If you're trying to field right field with a platoon situation, then both guys have to be able to throw well. Both guys have to be good defenders."
Smith went 8-10 with a 4.76 earned-run average in 35 games, including 17 starts, during his time in Kansas City. The Royals have a deep bullpen and Smith pitched primarily in relief, going 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA last season, which ultimately made him expendable in a trade.
The Brewers finished last season with five right-handed starters, headlined by Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse, and Smith gives them a left-hander to slot into the rotation. He went 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA in 16 starts two years ago.