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Friday's Frosty Mug

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Some things to read while feeling old.

We're 29 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Maryvale (the first truck leaves today), and we got some surprise news last night: The New York Daily News is reporting that Ryan Braun's appeal was heard in New York yesterday, negating earlier reports suggesting it was scheduled for January 23 or 24 (FanShot). The case is being heard by MLBPA head Michael Weiner, MLB VP of Labor Relations Rob Manfred and an independent arbitrator. A ruling isn't expected until next week at the earliest, meaning the outcome won't be known when Braun accepts his NL MVP award Saturday night.

Elsewhere in surprises, here's a pleasant one: Tom Haudricourt is reporting that Norichika Aoki's new contract only guarantees him $2.25 million over the next two seasons, although it is loaded down with incentives and features a club option for 2014 (FanShot). Aoki told the AP that playing in the US "has been a dream of mine for quite some time." Dream or no dream, it's pretty incredible that the Brewers were able to convince him to take a 75% pay cut from what he made in Japan last season.

The Brewers had previously announced plans to introduce Aoki at Brewers On Deck at the end of the month, but have since scrapped those plans. Aoki was in Los Angeles on Tuesday to sign his contract, but has returned to Japan and won't be back in the States until spring training.

Even with a relatively team-friendly deal for Aoki, though, this is going to be one expensive Brewer team. Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt (behind the JS paywall) that the payroll will push $100 million this season, and the team is "way over what we projected our budget to be at this point."

Here are today's Prince Fielder notes:

Plunk Everyone has an interesting note on Aramis Ramirez: Now that Albert Pujols has left the division, Ramirez is the active career leader with 1788 hits in the NL Central. He needs 473 more to pass Craig Biggio for first place all time, meaning three good seasons in Milwaukee should just about do it.

In the minors:

As of this writing, Taylor Green holds a 43 vote advantage over Jed Bradley for the #4 spot in our BCB Community Prospect Rankings. You have until 1 pm today to cast your vote, and the balloting for the #5 spot will open at 2.

Around baseball:

Blue Jays: Signed pitcher Nelson Figueroa to a minor league deal.
Cubs: Re-signed pitcher Rodrigo Lopez to a minor league deal.
Indians: Signed pitcher Jeremy Accardo and outfielder Fred Lewis to minor league deals.
Orioles: Signed pitcher Oscar Villareal to a minor league deal.
Rays: Signed infielder Will Rhymes, outfielder Jesus Feliciano and pitchers Romulo Sanchez and Matt Torra to minor league deals.
Rockies: Signed pitcher Rafael Betancourt to a contract extension that will pay him $4.25 million in 2013 and has a mutual option for 2014.

Yesterday's biggest story around baseball involved Roberto Hernandez Heredia, which apparently is Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona's real name. Heredia was arrested yesterday for the fake identity and, perhaps more importantly, we learned that he's 31, not 28 as previously suspected. Ben Badler of Baseball America spoke to some people who seem to feel Carmona won't be the only big name caught this winter.

Today in baseball economics: The Astros projected payroll for this season is only $60.7 million, marking the third straight season where it's gone down. They spent $103 million in 2009.

If yesterday's Thursday Thinker was too easy for you, here's a challenge for this morning: Sporcle wants you to name the players that have appeared in a Pirates Opening Day lineup since 1991. I got 47 before realizing I really should have been working on this post instead. (h/t Bucs Dugout)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have blackmailing to do.

Drink up.