SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners announced the signing of outfielder Norichika Aoki to a one-year contract on Thursday.
The 33-year-old Aoki is the ninth Japanese player to sign with Seattle. According to CBSSports.com, his deal will pay him $5.5 million next year and includes a mutual vesting option of $6 million for 2017 with another $1.5 million in annual incentives.
“They made it clear they needed me, and I want to win a championship here,” Aoki said during a news conference at Safeco Field. “Everyone in Japan knows the team. We have guys who can hit in the middle of the order so my job will be to get on base and score runs.”
Aoki, who will wear No. 8, will play for his fourth team since arriving in the major leagues in 2012. The Mariners’ new general manager Jerry Dipoto gushed about Aoki and said the former San Francisco Giants leadoff man will primarily play left field.
“We feel he’ll make a difference as a catalyst at the top of our lineup,” Dipoto said. “You’ve got a stolen-base threat who is on base 35 percent of the time and has shown you a bat for average that is ridiculously consistent.
“We’re excited to have him in that role.”
Aoki got off to a solid start with the Giants in 2015, but his season was derailed after twice being hit by a pitch. In June, he landed on the disabled list with a broken right fibula and he suffered a concussion in August that ended his year.
Aoki was limited to 93 games, batting .287 with 102 hits, a .353 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases, yet he said there are no lingering effects of the concussion.
“I could’ve played if I wanted to in September and there are no effects of the concussion,” Aoki said. “I’ll be 100 percent for the new season.
“I felt good about what I was doing in the first half of the season. But I need to be able to perform throughout the year, and that’s the kind of year I’m hoping to have.”
Dipoto would not go into details on his negotiations with Aoki’s friend and free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, although he said re-signing Iwakuma remains a priority for the team.
Aoki said he hopes Iwakuma will join him in Seattle in 2016.
“I contacted him yesterday. It’s in my contract that he plays for the Mariners next year so my deal will kick in as soon as he signs,” Aoki joked.
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