The problem with building around youth is that, eventually, it comes time to pay those players. With Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland already arbitration eligible, their names have come up as possible candidates for a contract extension. With Salvador Perez having already been signed to an extension, young pitchers such as Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer, once he makes his debut, could also be extension candidates. Of course, there are also the key veterans, players such as James Shields and Alex Gordon.
In all of the speculation that has occurred, both here and on other sites, one name that has not come up is Norichika Aoki. Despite having only played for three years once the 2014 season is complete, a clause in his contract makes it where he becomes a free agent, as opposed to being arbitration eligible. Right now, for the Royals, Aoki is a one year rental.
Yet, Aoki is a player that the Royals have lacked for over a decade – a legitimate leadoff hitter. He has excellent speed, the ability to work the count and excellent contact skills. With the Royals offensive philosophy shifting towards finding players that can get on base at a high rate, and put pressure on the opposing defense, Aoki is the perfect fit for the top of the lineup.
The cost to extend Norichika Aoki is not likely to be overly exorbitant. Aoki will be 33 heading into the 2015 season, and as a player whose game is based in large part upon his speed, may be considered a bit of a risk in free agency. However, he fits perfectly with the Royals, and not just for his offense. With the spacious outfield in Kauffman Stadium, the Royals need outfielders that can cover ground. Putting Aoki along with Gold Glove caliber outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Gordon gives the Royals one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
Aoki simply appears to be the perfect fit for what Dayton Moore and the Royals front office are attempting to put together. Although Jorge Bonifacio may arrive in the majors, should he continue his progression, sometime during the 2015 season, an extension for Aoki would not necessarily hamper the Royals ability to pursue other players. In fact, should Cain continue to prove to be injury prone, Aoki would prove to be quite valuable as a fourth outfielder.
It may not be the most exciting move the Royals could make, but if Norichika Aoki performs at the start of the season like the leadoff hitter the Royals have so desperately needed, a two year extension would make a lot of sense. At the very least, it may be an option that the Royals consider.