Mariners Executive Vice President & General Manager of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto announced today that the club has signed free agent outfielder Norichika Aoki [pronunciation noer-EECH-kuh AH-oh-kee]to a one-year contract with a vesting mutual option for the 2017 season.
Aoki, 33, a veteran of four Major League and eight (Japanese) Central League seasons, hit .287 (102×355) with 42 runs scored, 12 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, 26 RBI and 14 stolen bases in 93 games with the San Francisco Giants in 2015. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound left-handed batter, finished 11th with a .353 on-base percentage among National League outfielders last season (min. 350 AB). Aoki’s .357 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter also ranked as the 4th-highest in the NL (min. 300 AB), overall batting .291 (94×323) with 39 runs scored, 11 doubles, 2 triples,4 home runs, 23 RBI, 27 walks and 13 stolen bases batting in the leadoff position. He hit .344 (22×77) with 2 doubles and 21 RBI with runners in scoring position, including a .472 (17×46) clip with 2 doubles and 18 RBI with runners in scoring position and 2 outs. Aoki was limited to only 93 games, including appearing in only 12 of the Giants final 42 games, after suffering a concussion that landed him 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 has been the model of consistency since signing 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.
In 2012, he finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, after hitting .288 with 10 home runs, 50 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 151 games with the Brewers.
Over 4 seasons in the Major Leagues with Milwaukee (2012-13), Kansas City (2014) and San Francisco (2015), Aoki is batting .287 (563×1963) with 266 runs scored, 91 doubles, 16 triples, 24 home runs, 156 RBI, 171 walks and 81 stolen bases in 531 career games. His 123 infield hits in his MLB career are the 3rd-most in the Majors since the start of 2012.
Aoki hit .329 with 84 home runs, 385 RBI 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 over .300 in seven of his eight seasons in the league.
Nori 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 Mitsui Gold Glover in center field (2006-11) and was the 2005 Central League Rookie of the Year. He is the only player in Nippon Professional Baseball history with two 200-hit seasons (2005 & 2010). Aoki was also a member of both of Japan’s World Baseball Classic championship teams in 2006 and 2009, including being named to the World Baseball Classic All-Tournament Team in 2009. He also played in all nine games in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as Japan’s starting center fielder, batting .294 (10×34) with 5 runs scored and 7 RBI.
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 right-handed pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma (2012-current), Masao Kida (2004-05), Shigetoshi Hasegawa (2002-05), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000-03) and Mac Suzuki (1996-99).