The Mariners Thursday signed free agent Norichika Aoki to a one-year contract with a vesting mutual option for the 2017 season. A 33-year-old veteran of four MLB seasons, plus eight years in the Japanese Central League, Aoki hit .287 in 93 games for the San Francisco Giants last season and finished 11th among National League outfielders with a .353 on-base percentage.
“Adding Nori addresses our desire to be more athletic in the outfield, as well as more contact oriented in the batter’s box,” said GM Jerry Dipoto. “His consistency, versatility and energetic style of play will fit us very well.”
According to CBSSports.com, Aoki will receive $5.5 million in base salary. The contract contains a $6 million mutual option that will automatically vest if Aoki reaches an unspecified playing-time figure (presumably, plate appearances). Aoki can also earn up to $1.5 million worth of incentives in each season of the contract.
Aoki scored 42 runs with 12 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 26 RBIs and 14 stolen bases for the Giants, who declined his option in December. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound left-handed batter’s .357 OBP as a leadoff hitter also ranked as fourth-highest in the NL. Aoki hit .344 with runners in scoring position.
Aoki was limited to 93 games, including appearing in 12 of the Giants’ final 42, after suffering a concussion after being hit by a pitch from the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta. He was on the disabled list from Aug. 13-20. He was also on the disabled list with a fractured right fibula from June 24-July 27.
Aoki signed with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 2012 season after playing eight seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (2004-11). The past four seasons Nori has hit .288 with a .355 OBP; .286 and .356 OBP; .285 with a .349 OBP; and .287 with a .353 OBP.
Over four MLB seasons with Milwaukee (2012-13), Kansas City (2014) and San Francisco (2015), Aoki hit .287 with 266 runs scored, 91 doubles, 16 triples, 24 home runs, 156 RBIs, 171 walks and 81 stolen bases in 531 career games. His 123 infield hits are the third-most in the majors since the start of 2012.
Aoki hit .329 with 84 home runs, 385 RBIs and 164 stolen bases during his career in Japan. He won the Central League’s batting championship three times: 2005 (.344), 2007 (.346) and 2010 (.358), and hit above .300 in seven of his eight seasons in the league.
Aoki was a seven-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star (Central League, 2005-11), a seven-time recipient of the Best Nine Award (Japanese equivalent of the Silver Slugger Award), a six-time Gold Glove winner in center field (2006-11) and was the 2005 Central League Rookie of the Year.
He is the only player in NPB history with two 200-hit seasons (2005 and 2010).
Aoki represented Japan in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic. He also participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Aoki will become the ninth Japanese-born player to wear a Mariners uniform, joining outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (2001-12), infielder Munenori Kawasaki (2012), catcher Kenji Johjima (2006-09), and RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma (2012-current), Masao Kida (2004-05), Shigetoshi Hasegawa (2002-05), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000-03) and Mac Suzuki (1996-99).