Nori Aoki brings flexibility to Mariners’ OF, stability atop order

Dec 3, 2015, 6:15 PM | Updated: Dec 4, 2015, 9:39 am
Jerry Dipoto’s plan for Nori Aoki is to be used as the Mariners’ main left fielder and ...
Jerry Dipoto's plan for Nori Aoki is to be used as the Mariners' main left fielder and leadoff hitter. (AP)

Nori Aoki came prepared for his introductory press conference.

“Hello, Seattle,” he said in English with a big smile. “I have come to Seattle for the coffee. And also to win the World Series.”

The comment drew a laugh from general manager Jerry Dipoto, who said he was here for the same reasons. How much a factor the coffee has been in the whirlwind of acquisitions Dipoto has made in his short time in Seattle is tough to know. With Aoki now on board, he can perhaps start to slow down a little as he now has an outfield. Aoki, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and Nelson Cruz will be the five-man rotation in the outfield, with Aoki playing primarily in left.

“We’re going to rotate the outfield,” Dipoto said. “The one thing for certain is that Nori will play regularly. Franklin will get his at-bats against left-handed pitching and Seth Smith will get his versus right, but we will use the two corners and the DH role as an opportunity to make sure that all those players are getting their playing time. Nelson is going to play right field, he’s going to DH. Seth and Franklin will split right field on days where Nelson doesn’t play and will also play left on days that maybe Nori slides into center versus a tough lefty to give Leonys a day off.”

Dipoto is looking for Aoki to bring flexibility to the outfield and stability to the lineup – the top of the lineup specifically as Aoki will lead off for the Mariners.

“This was about as simple a fit as there was in this year’s free-agent class,” he said. “Nori fit exactly what we were looking for, a catalyst at the the top of the lineup as an everyday outfielder in some capacity.”

In each of his four years in the big leagues, Aoki has hit between .285 and .288 with his on-base percentage ranging from .349 to .356. He also has good left/right splits and an ability to steal a base. With that consistency he would seem to be a natural at the top of the order. An improved order with Aoki in it, according to Dipoto.

“We are more contact oriented,” he said. “One of my favorite parts of Nori’s history is he’s played four full seasons in the big leagues and he has actually drawn more walks than strikeouts, and that’s a remarkable achievement. It’s not common in this day and time. I feel like this really makes us a better, tougher, longer lineup, which was a primary focus of ours.”

Before the deal could be completed, Aoki had to pass a physical, which included extra concussion testing. Aoki suffered a concussion in August and was eventually shut down in early September as the symptoms persisted. He said through his interpreter at Thursday’s press conference that there have been no lingering effects and has been able to go about his usual offseason routine.

“I have been working out, working out hard and will be ready for the season,” he said.

A little bit of extra work may be put in on the side.

“Part of my contract includes the guarantee that (Hisashi) Iwakuma will sign back with the Mariners,” he joked when asked if the two were close.

Signing Iwakuma is still very much a priority for Dipoto. With Aoki signed and the outfield complete, pitching becomes the Mariners’ main focus.

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Nori Aoki brings flexibility to Mariners’ OF, stability atop order