MILWAUKEE—The Brewers never had scouted the Japanese major leagues, much less bothered to try to sign a player directly from Nippon Professional Baseball.
Thus, the organization surprised many when it announced that it had posted the winning $2.5 million bid for outfielder Norichika Aoki, a three-time Central League batting champ for the Yakult Swallows.
General manager Doug Melvin said the Brewers decided to put in a bid just a few days before the Dec. 19 deadline.
"We decided to try to acquire some depth in the outfield" he said.
The Brewers' plan was to bring the 30-year-old Aoki to their training facility in Phoenix in the first week of January to work him out for a few days. Then they would decide whether to sign him.
Aoki played center field for Yakult but is considered more of a left fielder in the U.S. major leagues because of a below-average arm. As it happens, the Brewers face the probable 50-game suspension of left fielder Ryan Braun at the outset of 2012 because he tested positive for a banned substance this offseason. The reigning MVP appealed the penalty.
Nez Balelo of Creative Artists Agency represents both Aoki and Braun.
"We have the opportunity to work (Aoki) out—it was agreed upon with the agent," Melvin said. "We had some contacts (in Japan), and we talked to some people who are familiar with things over there."
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, the lefty-hitting Aoki batted .292/.358/.360 with four homers in 583 at-bats last year. In 2010, he led the league with both a .358 average and a career-high 209 hits, and he hit .329 during an eight-year run with Yakult.
"I think what you read is he's someone who doesn't have extra-base power, more of an average-type hitter," Melvin said. "He is very typical of most of the Japanese players in that regard."
• The Brewers re-signed catcher Mike Rivera to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. He appeared in one game with Milwaukee last season, spending most of the year in Triple-A.
• Milwaukee signed first baseman Travis Ishikawa to a minor league deal. He spent much of 2009 and '10 as a bench player with the Giants, batting .265/.327/.400 in 603 career at-bats.