Jerry Dipoto, the Seattle Mariners' new General Manager, continued to give the club's big league roster a makeover this week with a flurry of moves. The latest move -- announced this afternoon -- was adding free agent outfielder Norichika Aoki on a one-year deal with a 2017 mutual vesting option. Rumored for most of this week, the official announcement today followed Aoki passing an extensive physical exam by the club. He missed time with a concussion and a broken fibula for the Giants last year.
Aoki, who will be 34 next month, has four years of service in MLB since coming over from the Japanese Central League, where he was seven-time All-Star. A .300+ hitter in six of his eight years in Japan, he has been remarkably consistent in his career stateside, too, playing his first two seasons with Milwaukee before spending one season each with Kansas City and San Francisco, hitting .288/.355/.433, .286/.356/.370, .285/.349/.360 and .287/.353/.380 in those years. In addition to to that consistent batting line, Aoki has stolen 81 bases in that time and walked (171) more times than he's struck out (169), too. He played mostly left field for the Giants last year after spending a majority of his time in right field in MLB and winning six Gold Gloves in center field in Japan.
Although his defensive proficiency has been questioned, there is no doubt that Aoki fits into the style of play that Dipoto has stated from day one that he desires to employ on this club. The GM said in the official press release from the club this afternoon, "Adding Nori addresses our desire to be more athletic in the outfield, as well as more contact oriented in the batter’s box. His consistency, versatility and energetic style of play will fit us very well.”
Aoki's addition now leaves the Mariners with a group of five outfielders that figure to set up well for potential platoons, even though the lefty hitting Aoki has hit better against left-handed pitching (.321/.376/.400) than against right-handed pitching (.272/.344/.380). Aoki, Seth Smith and Martin from the left side and Franklin Gutierrez and Nelson Cruz from the right side is a solid base to start with for the team.
In addition to adding Aoki this week, Mark Trumbo and C.J. Riefenhauser were traded to Baltimore for lefty hitting catcher Steve Clevenger, first baseman Andy Wilkins was claimed on waivers from Baltimore, left-handed pitcher Edgar Olmos was designated for assignment, the club signed free agent reliever Justin De Fratus to a major league deal and they sent Patrick Kivlehan, who was our No. 6 prospect coming into the season and who had recently been added to the 40-man roster, to Texas to complete the Leonys Martin trade. Catcher John Hicks -- DFA'd last week -- was also lost on a waiver claim by the Twins.
With these moves, the Mariners' roster once again sits at a full 40 -- and lacks a proven first baseman -- as the club prepares to head into the Winter Meetings next week in Nashville, Tennessee. Jesus Montero is there, and Dipoto said this afternoon that, "If the season started today, he’ll be our first baseman." They do figure to remain active, though, and the roster as it exists now certainly isn't representative of what they will head into 2016 with, with Dipoto again saying today, "we’re not quite there yet." However it shakes out going forward, adding Aoki and seeing the continued retooling of the major league roster in a form that is more conducive to the type of play that Dipoto feels is best for the club to succeed is encouraging.
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