MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and two of his Major League coaches will be among a club contingent watching outfielder Norichika Aoki's workout this weekend at Maryvale Baseball Park, the first step in determining whether both sides want to spend the ensuing week pursuing a deal. Roenicke, bench coach Jerry Narron and hitting coach Johnny Narron will attend the one-day affair with Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, director of pro scouting Zack Minasian and his predecessor, Dick Groch, now a special assistant to Melvin. So will two Brewers officials who spend most of their time at Maryvale: special assistant and player development director Reid Nichols and his top assistant, Tony Diggs. They will watch Aoki take batting practice off the coaches, they will hit him fly balls and gauge his throwing arm and they will time his running speed.
"It's the same with any player you work out," Melvin said. But both sides made clear that this is not a "tryout." Aoki, 30, is already an accomplished player in Japan, a three-time batting champion whose club, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, posted him last month for Major League teams to bid. The Brewers won the bidding by reportedly paying $2.5 million for Aoki's rights, and have until 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 17 to sign him. If they do not, Aoki would return to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Brewers would not pay the posting fee. Since the team does not scout in Japan and made its bid based in part on second-hand accounts and video of Aoki's games, club officials wanted to see him in person before beginning formal negotiations. Both the Brewers and Aoki's camp, led by agent Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, have declined to reveal the precise schedule to avoid turning Aoki's workout into a media event. Subsequent negotiations, should they ensue, will probably take place with similarly tight lips. Aoki would no doubt prefer a multi-year deal for making the move to the U.S., a common request for players shifting their careers from Japan. The Brewers, given that Aoki would essentially play a reserve role, would much prefer a one-year contract. As of the start of this offseason, all eight of the players who were posted and signed with Major League teams since the current system was implemented in 1998 received multi-year contracts (three others inked Minor League deals). The most recent position player is shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who drew a bid from the Twins that topped $5 million, then agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract. But other Japanese players have signed one-year free-agent deals. On Thursday, the Mariners announced they had signed right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to a 2012 contract that guarantees $1.5 million, with another $3.4 million in performance bonuses based on innings and games pitched. Iwakuma, 30 and one of Japan's premier pitchers over the past decade, first tried coming to the Major Leagues last year, but couldn't reach agreement with the A's on a contract after Oakland bid $19.1 million for negotiating rights. He returned to Japan for another season and was a free agent this winter because he had the necessary nine years of service. Aoki has played five seasons for the Swallows and is a .329 hitter with 68 home runs, 295 RBIs, a .408 on-base percentage and 93 stolen bases. A left-handed batter, he had a career-high 209 hits in 2010, but dropped to 170 hits and a .292 average in 2011. Melvin said the Brewers' understanding is that he earned about $2.7 million last season. Aoki would be the first Japanese position player to sign via the posting system this winter. The Yankees walked away from shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima on Thursday because they were unable to agree on a deal. Aoki's potential role on the Brewers is in flux. Aoki was mostly a center fielder in Japan but Milwaukee is set there with Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez, both of whom are arbitration-eligible. Corey Hart is entrenched in right field, and National League MVP Ryan Braun is in left, unless he is suspended the first 50 games. Braun is reportedly appealing a test under MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program. Pending the Braun situation, only one backup outfield spot is unspoken for. The top candidate already on the 40-man roster is 25-year-old Logan Schafer. "We want to be open-minded about it," Melvin said. "You don't want to tip your hand in negotiations like this."