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12/19/11 11:46 AM EST
Brewers win negotiating rights for Aoki
Japanese outfielder to work out for club in January
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers want a first-hand look at Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki before deciding whether to pursue a deal with the three-time batting champion. Major League Baseball confirmed Monday that the Tokyo Yakult Swallows had accepted the Brewers' winning bid for Aoki, opening a 30-day window for the sides to negotiate an MLB contract. Aoki is being represented in the U.S. by Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, the same agency that represents Brewers outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. Since the Brewers do not have a scout stationed in Japan, they plan to invite Aoki for a workout at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Ariz., at some point after the holidays. The details have yet to be set, general manager Doug Melvin said, but he would like manager Ron Roenicke and at least one member of Roenicke's coaching staff to attend with other club officials for what would probably be a two-day event. Multiple reports over the weekend said the Brewers paid a $2.5 million posting fee for the right to negotiate with Aoki. The Brewers must only pay the fee if they reach an agreement. Melvin said the deadline for the Brewers and Aoki to agree is Jan. 17. "The bid allows you the opportunity to negotiate, that's all. We'll make a decision after the workout," Melvin said. Aoki was posted by the Swallows early last week, after the news that Braun, the reigning National League MVP, was appealing a 50-game suspension under MLB's Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. But the Brewers' decision to bid was "totally separate," assistant GM Gord Ash said. Both Ash and Melvin said the Brewers have been given no information about the timing of Braun's appeal. There is a chance that Aoki's signing deadline would pass before resolution of the Braun matter. Aoki could help the Brewers cover that potential loss, but as a left-handed hitter he could also add balance to an outfield corps that already includes three right-handed hitters in left fielder Braun, right fielder Hart and center fielder Carlos Gomez. The only lefty hitter currently in the mix is center fielder Nyjer Morgan, though top outfield prospects Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl also bat left-handed. Aoki turns 30 on Jan. 5 and is a .339 hitter in four seasons in Japan. His average slipped to .292 with four homers in 2011, after going for career highs of a .358 average and 209 hits in 2010. Questions remain. Will the Brewers be convinced by Aoki's workout to further stretch their already tight budget? Will Aoki be interested in Milwaukee, a Midwestern city with a small Asian population? Will he be interested in the Brewers, a team with, Braun's situation notwithstanding, its starting outfield already in place? The Brewers have never employed a Japanese position player, and have imported only one Japanese player directly -- reliever Takahito Nomura, who walked 18 batters and allowed 11 hits in 13 2/3 innings in 2002. The four other Japanese pitchers to appear in a Milwaukee uniform -- Hideo Nomo, Mac Suzuki, Tomo Ohka and Takashi Saito -- all established themselves as U.S. Major Leaguers before coming to the Brewers.