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01/09/12 11:52 AM EST
After workout, clock ticking for Brewers, Aoki
Milwaukee discussing whether to pursue Japanese outfielder
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers ran outfielder Norichika Aoki through a workout on Sunday and a physical exam on Monday morning, but the club is still discussing whether to pursue signing the 30-year-old three-time Japanese league batting champion. The sides have until 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 17 to strike a deal. If they do, Aoki would provide a left-handed bat off the bench and insurance against a possible suspension for left fielder Ryan Braun. If they do not strike a deal, then Aoki returns to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for a sixth season and the Brewers are off the hook for his $2.5 million posting fee. "We worked him out, and then we had some discussions last night, and we'll have some more today about whether to go further," said general manager Doug Melvin, who attended the workout. Melvin, Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, manager Ron Roenicke and coaches Jerry and Johnny Narron were among the club's contingent at Maryvale Baseball Park for a Sunday workout that lasted just over an hour. Agent Nez Balelo and three others, including a translator, visited with Aoki, who took batting practice and participated in running and throwing drills. "He's what you would expect from a player from Japan," Melvin said. "The decision we have to make is, does he fit on our roster? That's something we'll talk about here in the next couple of days." Melvin's decision-making team includes director of pro scouting Zack Minasian and special assistant Dick Groch, both of whom attended the workout. The group traveled back to Milwaukee on Monday morning. The Brewers essentially lengthened their negotiating window by getting Aoki's physical exam out of the way this early in the process. Aoki was a .329 hitter in five seasons with the Swallows, with 68 home runs, 295 RBIs, a .408 on-base percentage and 93 stolen bases. There have been varied reports about Aoki's salary last season, but the Brewers' understanding is that he earned less than $3 million. If the club moves forward with negotiations, Melvin would much prefer a one-year deal to see how Aoki's skills translate to the Major Leagues. Aoki would no doubt prefer a multi-year deal for making the move to the U.S., a common request for players shifting their careers from Japan. As of the start of this offseason, all eight of the players who were posted and signed with Major League teams since the current system was implemented in 1998 received multi-year contracts (though three others inked Minor League deals). The most recent position player is shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who drew a bid from the Twins that topped $5 million and agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract. Other Japanese players have signed one-year free-agent deals. On Thursday (which happened to be Aoki's 30th birthday), the Mariners announced they signed right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to a 2012 contract that guarantees $1.5 million, with another $3.4 million in performance bonuses based on innings and games pitched. Iwakuma, 30 years old and one of Japan's premier pitchers over the past decade, first tried coming to the Major Leagues last year, but he couldn't reach agreement with the A's on a contract after Oakland bid $19.1 million for negotiating rights. He returned to Japan for another season and was a free agent this winter because he had the necessary nine years of service. If the Brewers decide against a deal, they would not be the first team to make that decision this winter. The Yankees walked away from shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima last week because they were unable to agree to terms.