Such is the nature of deadlines: when one exists, it will be pushed to the limit.
The Brewers deadline to negotiate with Norichika Aoki was no different. The Brewers had until 4:00 PM Tuesday afternoon to sign the Japanese outfielder to a contract after winning the rights for a $2.5 million posting fee one month ago. At 4:39 PM, MLB.com beat writer Adam McCalvy (among others) reported that Aoki and the Brewers have agreed to a two-year contract with a club option for a third year.
No more details are available as of yet.
As with any player coming over from Japan, projections for Aoki’s production in the states will be murky. Aoki appears to be stellar at making contact, as evidenced by his .336 career batting average in the NPB. Although he showed some power in Japan, with 84 career home runs, scouts seem to universally agree his power won’t translate in the MLB, much as it didn’t in the 2011 NPB season (in which the league moved to a different kind of baseball and power dropped leaguewide). His upside basically appears to be a similar kind of player to Nyjer Morgan — high contact, good speed, and some doubles down the line but little else in terms of power numbers.
The Brewers roster appears to be set now in terms of outfielders, and GM Doug Melvin has confirmed that notion:
With signing of Aoki, #Brewers GM Doug Melvin said he’s done shopping for outfielders
— Tom (@Haudricourt) January 17, 2012
The Brewers have stockpiled an excellent amount of outfield depth now, perhaps a necessity given the state of flux Ryan Braun’s 2012 campaign finds itself in. However, between Braun, Corey Hart, Morgan, Carlos Gomez and Aoki, the Brewers potentially have five above-average outfielders including one elite defender and one elite hitter. With Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl and Brendan Katin waiting in the minors and utility man Brooks Conrad potentially able to man the corners as a right-handed bat, the Brewers should be able to handle almost any situation in the outfield.
It’s entirely possible the Aoki experiment is a failure on the level of the Twins’ signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka or, going back a little further, the Tsuyoshi Shinjo experience in New York and San Francisco. However, with how little the Brewers are asking from Aoki — merely fill a fourth outfielder role, not become a key, starting contributor — the environment should be right for him to thrive as a Milwaukee Brewer.