Brewers’ Aoki a potential trade chip?

Contrary to previous reporting, and with potential implications for the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki will be a free agent when his current contract expires after this season or next.

Previously, a club official told MLB.com that Aoki’s two-year contract, which runs through the end of 2013 and has a $1.5 million option for 2014, did not include language calling for the Brewers to release him when that deal is up. Under that scenario, assuming the Brewers exercised his ’14 option (a near certainty considering Aoki’s successful transition to the U.S. Major Leagues and reasonable price tag), Aoki would have had three years of arbitration-eligibility from 2015-17 and would have remained Brewers property.

But that is not the case, according to Aoki’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, and Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, who double-checked the language in the contract on Monday. It includes language stipulating Aoki will be an untethered free agent at the end of his current deal, whether or not the Brewers exercise their option.

That is common practice for players making the jump from Japan to the U.S. like Aoki, who was a three-time batting champion for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. That team posted Aoki in December 2011, and the Brewers won negotiating rights with a $2.5 million bid, then signed Aoki to a two-year deal that guaranteed $2.5 million plus incentives.

Aoki, 31, entered Monday batting .284 with a .362 on-base percentage, 43 runs scored and nine stolen bases. Considering he is at most a season and a half from free agency, and the Brewers are expected to be sellers at the Trade Deadline, Aoki could be an appealing trade chip. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has already fielded calls about his relievers, including right-handers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, and has indicated an openness to making trades with an eye toward the future.

The Brewers have a strong stable of outfield prospects, including Logan Schafer, who began this season as a Major League reserve but has been playing regularly with left fielder Ryan Braun on the disabled list, and Triple-A Nashville’s Khris Davis, Caleb Gindl and Josh Prince. Davis and Gindl are each on MLB.com’s list of the top 20 Brewers prospects (Davis at No. 14 and Gindl at No. 16), as are Double-A Huntsville’s Kentrail Davis (No. 19), advanced Class A Brevard County’s Mitch Haniger (No. 10) and Class A Wisconsin’s Victor Roache (No. 7) and Tyrone Taylor (No. 13).

– Adam McCalvy

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