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Brewers sign Japanese OF Aoki

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CHRIS JENKINS
January 18, 2012
— The Milwaukee Brewers looked overseas to add some depth to their outfield Tuesday, signing Japanese star Norichika Aoki to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014.

The 30-year-old Aoki hit over .300 in six of his seven full seasons and was a three-time batting champion in Japan's Central League. He was the league's 2005 rookie of the year and is a six-time golden glove award winner.


"He wanted to come over here and play," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "I don't think he had as many challenges left over there as he saw over here. So he's coming over here, and he's going to give it his best shot to try and get as much playing time as he can."


Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Melvin said it contains a "fair amount" of incentives.


The Brewers also reached one-year deals with relievers Francisco Rodriguez and Kameron Loe, avoiding arbitration. Rodriguez agreed to an $8 million contract and Loe's deal is worth $2,175,000.


Rodriguez, who had an $11.5 million salary last year, can make $625,000 in performance bonuses based on games finished: $125,000 each for 15, 20 and 25, and $250,000 for 30. Loe can earn bonuses of $25,000 for 60 games, $50,000 for 65 games, $50,000 for 70 games and $100,000 for 80 games.


Melvin said the team intends to keep Rodriguez rather than listening to trade proposals.


"I haven't necessarily looked at offers to trade him," Melvin said. "My outlook has always been that he's part of this club."


Aoki's team, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, accepted the Brewers' bid of $2.5 million under the posting system in December. The Brewers had until 4 p.m. CT Tuesday to complete a deal.


Had the team not signed Aoki, he would have returned to Japan and the Brewers would have received their bid money back.


Although the deal wasn't announced until after the deadline, Melvin said there wasn't too much last-minute drama.


"At the start of the day, we had a pretty good understanding that there was a chance this is going to happen," Melvin said.


Outfield depth could be critical for the Brewers, given that they may be without NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of next season if he loses his appeal for testing positive for a banned substance.


"He will be given an opportunity, but I really don't want to address that until we know more about Ryan's situation," Melvin said.


The Brewers are optimistic Aoki's success in Japan will translate to the U.S., but acknowledge they won't really know until they see him play.


"We made a commitment to Nori and at (this) point, we'll have to just wait and see," Melvin said. "I can't really answer that until we see him play in game conditions."


Aoki bats left-handed and throws right-handed. Melvin says he can play all three outfield positions.


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


Melvin said the Brewers' newfound outfield depth could allow them to occasionally start Corey Hart at first base.


The Brewers still expect Prince Fielder to sign elsewhere as a free agent, and will give Mat Gamel a shot at succeeding him. But Melvin said the team might want to see how Hart, the team's right fielder, fits there.


"Probably not on a regular basis, but if he can fill in here and there," Melvin said.


Melvin said he wanted manager Ron Roenicke to run the idea past Hart in the offseason.


"If he doesn't, I'm not going to force the issue on him," Melvin said.



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