The Brewers may be adding some outfield depth from across the Pacific Ocean this season. Friday night, it was announced the Brewers won the posting bid on Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki at a cost of $2.5 million. Milwaukee now has an exclusive 30-day window to negotiate a contract with Aoki. If no agreement is reached, Aoki will return to Japan for another season.
But given the rather low posting fee — for example, the posting fee on Daisuke Matsuzaka was over $50 million — the Brewers should be able to negotiate a reasonable and relatively cheap contact with Aoki. The 30-year-old lefty has been compared to Ichiro as the “best pure hitter in Japan” since the all-star came over in 2001, but chances are this comparison is more lazy race-based analysis than anything substantial. Still, Aoki’s career NPB stats are very encouraging. In 697 games prior to 2011, Aoki owned a .336/.411/.472 line before stumbling a bit to a .292/.358/.360 season in 2011 — although I don’t have the full statistics on hand, that line screams poor luck on balls in play, as he still showed excellent on-base skills.
But it’s difficult to tell whether statistics from Japan will translate. For every Ichiro, there’s a Tsuyohsi Shinjo, and for every Hideo Nomo there’s a Hideki Irabu. Aoki, whose arm will likely limit him to left field, seems like a good bet to be a fourth outfielder type but likely lacks the power to become more — he only hit 84 home runs in his roughly 800 games in Japan, a pace of 17 per 162 game season. With Japanese parks typically easier to hit home runs in and the drop-off in pitching talent across the Pacific, one can certainly question if Aoki would manage even a double digit total with regularity in the majors, something that simply won’t cut it as a full-time corner outfielder. If he could cut it in center field, however, his chances of being a productive starting major leaguer increase significantly.
Of course, it’s impossible to address any Brewers situation involving an outfielder without addressing Ryan Braun. If the Brewers do indeed sign Aoki, he would be a clear option to replace Braun in the lineup should he receive the 50-game suspension he is facing for a positive test for a banned substance (potentially performance enhancing drugs). Although Aoki (as with almost any other player) could not completely replace Braun, he could give the Brewers much-needed outfield depth in his absence.
If the Brewers indeed add Aoki, here’s a video taste of what he can do: