Brewers Win Bid on Japanese Central League Star

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by Andrew Coughlin

The Brewers put in a late 2.5 million dollar bid on Japanese OF Norichika Aoki and won. 

What does that mean?  It means that Doug Melvin is preparing a little insurance for a possible Ryan Braun suspension.  It also means the Brewers will have exclusive negotiating rights with Aoki for 30 days.  If Aoki and the Brewers cannot come to an agreement in that time, the 2.5 million dollars would be returned to the Brewers and Aoki would go back to the organization he came from.  

Where is Aoki from, you ask?  

Aoki is a centerfielder and 3 time batting champion from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League.  In 7 seasons with the Swallows, he's a lifetime .329 hitter and is considered an above average defender with a weaker arm.  He would almost certainly replace Braun in LF if the Brewers are able to sign him.   He won Japan's Golden Glove for his defense in the outfield 3 times in 7 seasons and played LF in the World Baseball Classic in 2009.

In that tournament, in which Japan repeated as champions, Aoki hit .324 with 7 RBI in 9 games batting third in Japan's lineup.  He made the Japan national team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic as well.

Japan's professional league contains 12 teams and is called Nippon Professional Baseball or the NPB.  Its comprised of two leagues just like the MLB's American League and National League.  The Pacific League, which uses a DH just like the American League and the Central League which is comparable to the MLB's National League (no use of the DH; pitchers hit for themselves).

The Swallows are in the Central League.  In 2005, Aoki's rookie year, he broke the Central League's record for hits in a single season with 202.  He missed out on the NPB single season record of 210 hits, held by the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki.  Known for his bat control, Aoki doesn't strike out much (55 strike outs in 583 at bats in 2011)and can spray the ball to all fields.

Most hitters from Japan lack slugging power and Aoki is no different.  His career slugging percentage is .454 which is extremely low compared to Braun's career .563 slugging percentage.  He definitely won't replace Braun's production, but his left-handed bat and high batting average would be a nice addition at the top of the Brewers' lineup.

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