Brewers enter New Year unsure of Braun’s status

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said the club entered the New Year with no word about the status of outfielder Ryan Braun, who faces a 50-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention & Treatment Program. If a date has been set for Braun to appeal, the club has not been informed about it.

“We’re not involved with it. We can’t do anything about it,” Melvin said. “Everything comes from the Commissioner’s Office.”

That’s the biggest Brewers story to watch in the early part of 2012.

Another is Norichika Aoki, the Japanese outfielder to whom the Brewers won negotiating rights last month. The sides have until 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 17 to work out a contract, or Aoki would return to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Brewers would be returned their posting fee.

The timing could be interesting. If Braun is suspended the season’s first 50 games, the Brewers would have more playing time to offer Aoki, a three-time batting champion in Japan. The Brewers already have in place a center field platoon of Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez, and Corey Hart is set in right field.

But the Brewers will have to proceed with Aoki even though Braun’s status is unsettled. Melvin is hoping to early this week finalize arrangements with agent Nez Balelo — who, coincidentally, also represents Braun — for a workout with Aoki at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke would attend what could be a multi-day affair designed to give Brewers officials their first look at Aoki, and to give Aoki his first opportunity to meet club officials and hear their vision for him.

That meeting could come later this week or at the beginning of next week, Melvin said. After that, the Brewers would determine whether to pursue a contract with Aoki.

“We’re going to reserve judgement,” Melvin said. “We want to wait until after we get a look at him.”

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