SEATTLE — What projects as the final piece to the Mariners’ new-look outfield snapped into place Thursday when free-agent Nori Aoki passed a physical examination that certified his one-year deal.
Results of the exam reassured club officials that Aoki, 33, harbored no lingering effects from the post-concussion issues that ended his season with the San Francisco Giants in early September.
"Very (comprehensive)," general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "and we’re very comfortable with the result."
Concern over those issues is believed to be one reason why the Giants chose not to exercise a $5.5 million contract option to retain Aoki for next season.
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But Aoki received the same deal — $5.5 million — from the Mariners. He also has a mutual vesting option for $6 million in 2017 and can boost the value each year through $1.5 million in performance bonuses.
"Hello, Seattle," he said in opening an afternoon news conference at Safeco Field. "I’m Norichika Aoki, and I’m glad to meet you. I came to Seattle for the coffee — and also to win a World Series."
They were Aoki’s only words in English. He used an interpreter, Kosuke Inaji, throughout the rest of the session.
Even so, Aoki displayed a quick, deadpan wit when asked what free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, a close friend, planned to do.
"Part of my contract," he revealed, "includes a guarantee that Iwakuma will sign back with Seattle."
That’s a joke, but Dipoto would no doubt welcome any assistance. He reiterated that retaining Iwakuma remains a priority. But Dipoto also said Aoki "was a target of ours from the very start of the off-season."
A healthy Aoki projects to get full-time duty in the outfield, primarily in left field. He also adds a remarkably consistent left-handed bat with proven on-base skills atop the lineup.
"This was about as simple a fit as there was in this year’s free-agent class," Dipoto said. "Nori fit exactly what we were looking for — a catalyst at the top of our lineup and an everyday outfielder in some capacity."
In four years since arriving from Japan, after eight seasons at Yakult, Aoki has batted .288, .286, .285 and .287 while compiling an on-base percentage of .355, .356, .349 and .353.
Aoki also averaged 146 games in his first three seasons (2012-13 with Milwaukee; and 2014 with Kansas City) before a broken leg and those concussion concerns limited him last season to 93 with the Giants.
"I feel no effects from the concussion at all," he said. "I’m already working out and working out hard. I’m going to be ready for the season, 100 percent."
The Mariners’ outfield now shapes up as a five-player rotation with Aoki and newcomer Leonys Martin, obtained in a Nov. 16 trade with Texas, playing every day. Martin projects as the regular center fielder.
"The one thing for certain is that Nori will play regularly," Dipoto said, "that Franklin (Gutierrez) will get his at-bats against left-handed pitching and that Seth Smith will get his versus right(-handed pitchers).
"Nelson (Cruz) is going to play right field, and he’s going to DH. Seth and Franklin will split right field on days that Nelson doesn’t play (in the field).
"They’ll also play left on days when Nori slides into center versus a tough lefty to give Leonys a day off. There’s a nice rotation in there."
Aoki sees his new home as a great fit.
"This team already has a lot of great hitters," he said, "a lot of guys who can hit cleanup. I feel as long as I get on base in front of them, I’ll have a lot of chances to score and contribute to the Mariners winning."
One other thing. About his coffee, he likes it with "a little cream or milk."