Brewers look to Aoki for outfield boost

Aoki was a career .329 hitter in Japan

With reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun serving a 50-game suspension to begin the season, the Milwaukee Brewers will look to newly signed Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki to provide a boost with his versatile play.

The Brewers really won't know how the skills of Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki translate to the major league game until the team starts playing games in spring training.

Nevertheless, the Brewers were willing to pay for that preview by signing Aoki, 30, to a two-year deal plus a club option for 2014. The deal is heavy on incentives, guaranteeing Aoki only $2.5 million over the two years (including the option buyout).

The Brewers paid the Yakult Swallows a posting fee of $2.5 million for the negotiating rights to Aoki.

"He's a guy that's had a lot of success in Japan," general manager Doug Melvin said. "He's won Gold Gloves, won batting titles, was an All-Star.

"We think he can utilize those skills on our ballclub and give us some depth in the outfield. He can play all three outfield positions, preferably in center field, left field."

If Aoki shows he can be a viable player in the majors, he could play a key role should All-Star left fielder Ryan Braun be suspended for the first 50 games of the season because of a positive test for a banned substance.

Braun and the Brewers were awaiting the verdict of an arbitration panel on that front.

Melvin noted that some hitters from Japan, such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, experienced success in the major leagues, but others came over and struggled.

Accordingly, he wants to see Aoki play in spring training before his exact role is determined.

"We'll wait and see," Melvin said. "We made a commitment to 'Nori.' I can't really answer that until I we seem him play in game conditions."

The Brewers' only in-person look at Aoki came during a workout in Phoenix on Jan. 8. Melvin said Aoki never asked how much playing time he might get and nothing was promised.

"He's confident he can come over and show us his skill set," Melvin said. "He's a confident player. He wants the challenge of playing here in major league baseball."

In a press conference in Japan after the deal was announced, the three-time batting champion also spoke of the challenge of seeing how his skills would play in the major leagues.

Aoki said he was "very happy" to get that opportunity and obviously took a financial risk to do so.

Aoki played eight years with Yakult, batting .329 with 84 home runs, 385 runs batted in and 164 stolen bases in 985 games. He batted over .300 in six of his seven full seasons and was Central League batting champion in 2005 (.344), 2007 (.346) and 2010 (.358).

He was 2005 Central League rookie of the year and a six-time Golden Glove Award winner.



Brewers Notes & Quotes

  • RHP Francisco Rodriguez and the Brewers avoided a potentially messy arbitration case with an agreement on a one-year deal for $8 million. Rodriguez accepted the club's arbitration offer as a free agent after making $11.5 million in base salary in 2011. He was traded to the Brewers by the Mets during the All-Star break and formed a dependable 1-2 punch with RH closer John Axford.

  • INF Craig Counsell announced his retirement as an active player and took a position in the Brewers' front office as special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin. Counsell, 41, played the final five seasons of his 16-year career in the majors in Milwaukee, his hometown.

    "It's easier when you get more softball teams calling you than baseball teams. And the softball teams want to DH for you." -- Counsell, on his decision to retire as a player and join the Brewers' front office.

  • RHP Kameron Loe avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal for $2.175 million. Loe made $1.25 million last season, when he went 4-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 72 relief outings.

  • OF Nyjer Morgan, who knocked in the winning run in Game 5 of the Brewers' NLDS victory over Arizona last fall, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 2.35 million salary for 2012. Morgan was in his first year of arbitration eligibility and received a big hike from his 2011 pay of $471,500.

  • RHP Shaun Marcum and RHP Jose Veras were the only arbitration-eligible players not to come to terms with the Brewers before exchanging salary figures. Marcum, who made $3.95 million last year, filed for $8.7 million, with the Brewers coming in at $6.75 million. Veras, who made $1 million with Pittsburgh last season, filed for $2.375 million, with the team offering $2 million.

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