Norichika Aoki Rumors

Brewers Won’t Trade Ryan Braun

Though "four or five clubs" approached Brewers general manager Doug Melvin at the GM Meetings last week to inquire on Ryan Braun's availability, Melvin told the other GMs that Braun isn't available, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Melvin addressed trade rumors that have circulated around his embattled outfielder:

"We have no intentions of trading Ryan. There's absolutely no truth to that. We've never contacted any team about Ryan."

Melvin told Haudricourt that he, manager Ron Roenicke and owner Mark Attanasio had lunch with Braun last week in Los Angeles. There was no talk of trades, and his PED suspension was not a main talking point either. Rather, the Brewers brass met to discuss the upcoming plans for next season and a potential shift to right field for Braun, an idea to which Braun was open.

A shift to right field could open up some more at-bats for Khris Davis following an impressive Major League debut, though it could displace Norichika Aoki as well. Haudricourt writes that Aoki could still be used in left field at times in that scenario, however. He also adds that the very fact that the Brewers are discussing Braun's future with him illustrates the fact that he's not likely to be traded this winter.

Braun is owed $122MM over the next seven seasons, including a $4MM buyout on his $15MM mutual option for the 2021 season and two remaining annual payments of $2.5MM in 2014 and 2015 as part of the $10MM signing bonus on his most recent extension.


Central Rumors: Hart, Pelfrey, Suzuki, Cubs, Indians

Today's news out of the AL and NL Central..


Mets, Brewers Talked Ike Davis Trade

The Mets and Brewers discussed a trade that would've sent first baseman Ike Davis to Milwaukee, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports.  No deal is likely at this time, however, as talks failed to generate much traction.

First base is a definite need for the Brewers, as free agent Corey Hart is drawing interest from several teams, including the Mets themselves.  New York is known to be shopping both Davis and Lucas Duda but reportedly would prefer to deal Davis and give Duda a clear shot as an everyday first baseman. 

Davis was the Mets' first round draft pick in 2008 but he has struggled to find consistency in the majors.  A big second half of the 2012 season gave him 32 homers and a .771 OPS for the campaign but, rather than turn the corner, Davis took another step back in 2013 and hit just .205/.326/.334 with nine homers.  Davis' struggles against left-handed pitching would mean that any team acquiring him would need a right-handed platoon partner as well.  Despite this, a Major League executive tells Martino that "four or five teams" could be fits for Davis next season.

The Brewers prefer to explore the free agent market rather than talk trades at this stage of the offseason, a source tells Martino.  The source also notes that the Brewers aren't likely to trade outfielder Norichika Aoki, which isn't surprising given that Aoki is playing on a bargain $2MM contract for 2014.



Brewers Exercise Norichika Aoki’s Option

The Brewers have exercised their club option on right fielder Norichika Aoki, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. While previously reported to be worth just $1.5MM, McCalvy reports that the actual total is just under $2MM due to incentives that he reached in 2012-13. Either way, as McCalvy notes, exercising Aoki's option was a no-brainer for Brewers GM Doug Melvin.

Aoki, 32 in January, hit .287/.355/.399 in his first two seasons with the Brew Crew, totaling 18 homers and 50 stolen bases. Aoki originally projected to be a reserve outfielder for the Brewers, but he thrived in an everyday role after Corey Hart moved to first base full-time to replace the injured Mat Gamel in 2012.

The Brewers won the rights to negotiate with Aoki, a former NPB batting champion in Japan, by submitting a $2.5MM posting fee. Aoki then signed a two-year, $2.5MM contract with an option for a third year and incentives that could take the contract's total value to $8.6MM over three years. In hindsight, the move has turned out to be one of baseball's biggest bargains and one of the savviest of Melvin's tenure as GM.

Because Aoki is such a bargain, the emergence of Khris Davis as a potential outfield option alongside Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun has led many to speculate that Aoki could be dealt in the offseason. However, as MLBTR's Edward Creech noted in his recent Offseason Outlook for the Brewers, Melvin seems highly reluctant to deal Aoki.


NL Central Notes: Burnett, Sveum, Aoki

Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett could be making his last career start when he takes the hill tonight against the Reds. The Pirates have clinched a playoff spot, of course, but they're extremely likely to end up in a one-game playoff, also against Cincinnati. Francisco Liriano figures to start that game, and if the Pirates lose it, their season would be over. Burnett recently told the press he was "50-50" about whether he would play in 2014, although the Pirates have shown strong interest in bringing him back. Here are more notes from the NL Central.

  • Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs are likely to make a decision about manager Dale Sveum and his coaching staff by Monday, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports (via Twitter). Sveum's status has been uncertain for weeks now, with rumblings that the Cubs always considered him a placeholder until they were ready to compete. A strong year for the Cubs' top prospects may have convinced Epstein and Hoyer to be more aggressive in finding a manager for next season. The Cubs have gone 66-93 while rebuilding in 2013.
  • The Brewers will exercise outfielder Norichika Aoki's option, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports (via Twitter). Aoki's option is only for $1.5MM (with a $250K buyout) and so, as McCalvy notes, the decision was likely an easy one for Milwaukee. Aoki has produced a combined 4.2 WAR in his two seasons with the Brewers, including 1.7 in a 2013 season in which he's hit .287/.357/.368.

Central Notes: Chen, Konerko, Brewers, Axford

For the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to the postseason.  The Buccos and Reds each clinched playoff spots tonight, though it remains to be seen if those two clubs will face each other in the Wild Card game, or if one of them can catch the Cardinals for the NL Central lead.  Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis all won on Monday, so the Cards retained their two-game lead.

Here's the latest from both the NL and AL Central divisions…

  • Bruce Chen loves pitching for the Royals and wants to re-sign the team this winter, the veteran southpaw tells Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.  Chen said that he hasn't yet sat down with agent Scott Boras to determine his market and that the Royals "haven’t talked to me" about a new contract, but Chen said he hopes to pitch for at least another four or five seasons.  The 36-year-old has a 3.13 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 2.30 K/BB ratio in 109 1/3 IP this season, making 13 starts and 19 appearances out of the bullpen.  Dutton shared some more Royals items earlier today.
  • Paul Konerko won't decide on his playing future until after the season, a source tells ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine.  Konerko has been toying with the idea of retirement all season, though he has reportedly told friends he intends to play in 2014.
  • Norichika Aoki earned a $250K bonus upon making his 140th start of the season tonight, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports.  This ups Aoki's salary to $1.5MM for the season, and he can earn $0.5875MM for playing in one more game this year.  The Brewers have already gotten a huge bargain from Aoki's original two-year, $2.5MM contract and they hold a $1.5MM team option on the outfielder for 2014.
  • In other Brewers contract news from McCalvy, right-hander Kyle Lohse will earn a $350K bonus on Wednesday when he retires his first batter and reaches the 190-inning mark for the season.
  • John Axford is "open to discussing something with the Cardinals" about a new contract this offseason but for now is just looking forward to the postseason, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  Axford has posted a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 IP since joining the Cards three weeks ago but he could be a non-tender candidate due to his high arbitration number.  Axford is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and will earn a raise on his $5MM salary, plus he has two more arb years remaining after that as a Super Two player.

Brewers To Retain Aoki; Trade Talks Quiet

3:12pm: Gallardo left today's start early due to an injury, limping off the mound.  The Brewers described the injury as left hamstring tightness.

11:09am: "We're not going to move him," Brewers GM Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in regard to affordable right fielder Norichika Aoki.  Melvin noted that most of the players being traded are in their contract years; Aoki has a $1.5MM club option for 2014.

Melvin also told Haudricout he's not motivated to move Kyle Lohse, nor is he engaged in trade talks about today's starter, Yovani Gallardo.  Melvin isn't in active talks for any of his relievers, either, including Mike Gonzalez.  "Teams have to make offers," said Melvin who did acknowledge having one offer on the table for a pitcher, which he does not expect to lead to a deal.


Rangers Expressed Interest In Aoki

The Rangers have expressed interest in Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki during talks with the Brewers about starter Yovani Gallardo, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.  Aoki has a cheap $1.5MM club option for 2014, so it's unclear whether the Brewers will move him.

Aoki, 31, joined the Brewers in January 2012 after they won the rights to negotiate with him from Japan's Yakult Swallows for $2.5MM.  This year he's hitting .298/.366/.378 in 379 plate appearances, trading power for a slightly higher OBP as opposed to last year.  He's an underpaid high-contact player who can handle all three outfield positions.

Gallardo, meanwhile, takes on another team that covets him in the Diamondbacks tonight.  Some scouts see Gallardo as a No. 4 starter in the American League, maybe a 3 in the NL, writes Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.  The Rangers recently lost ace Yu Darvish to the DL for a strained trapezius muscle, which is currently considered a minor issue.


Aoki Can Become Free Agent After 2014

When the Brewers signed Norichika Aoki to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014 prior to the 2012 season, the belief around baseball was that Aoki would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player following completion of that contract. That belief has held until today, but MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports that Aoki's contract contains language that allows him to become a free agent upon the expiration of his current deal.

McCalvy confirmed the information with Aoki's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, as well as Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash. There had already been speculation that the Brewers could listen to trade offers on Aoki, but knowing that his proximity to free agency is three years closer than most realized, it's likely that GM Doug Melvin is more open to dealing Aoki than previously thought.

The Brewers won negotiation rights with Aoki by submitting a $2.5MM posting fee, and they signed him to a heavily incentivized two-year, $2.5MM contract with a club option for 2014. The club option is for a mere $1.5MM, so it will absolutely be exercised by the Brewers or an acquiring team, barring a catastrophic injury.

Aoki is a .287/.357/.410 hitter with 14 homers and 39 stolen bases in 227 Major League games. A three-time batting champion in Japan, the 31-year-old has transitioned his game to the Major Leagues beautifully. Fangraphs values his MLB production to date at 3.2 wins above replacement, though that's been weighed down by some poor baserunning in 2013 (Aoki has been caught stealing in eight of his 17 attempts). Aoki's overall production and incredibly reasonable price tag should make him a tantalizing trade chip for teams in need of outfield help, should the Brewers choose to deal him.

Aoki's name can be added to a free agent class of right fielders that contains the likes of Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Nate Schierholtz and possibly Nick Markakis and Alex Rios, depending how their option situations play out. You can see the entire list of 2015 MLB free agents here.


AL East Notes: Yankees, Hanley, Orioles

Alex Rodriguez broke his hand last night, when he was hit by a pitch from Felix Hernandez in Seattle. The injury is expected to sideline Rodriguez for six to eight weeks, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Not surprisingly, the news will affect the Yankees' summer shopping list. Here are the latest notes from the AL East…

  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman said he’ll engage the market for a third baseman, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.  The Yankees will consider all third base options, including Chase Headley of the Padres, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports (on Twitter). It seems unlikely that the Yankees would meet the Padres' asking price for Headley, Heyman writes (on Twitter).
  • The Red Sox asked the Marlins about Hanley Ramirez before last night’s trade, but Boston’s interest was in acquiring the infielder and flipping him to a third team, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports. It sounds as though the Red Sox were going to flip Ramirez to either the A’s or the Dodgers, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports (on Twitter).
  • The Orioles announced that they signed 25-year-old Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia to a minor league contract. The Orioles will assign the 6’5”, 195-pound switch-hitter to Double-A Bowie. Urrutia did not play in 2011 following an unsuccessful attempt at defection, according to the Orioles. He established residency in Haiti after successfully defecting from Cuba.