SEATTLE — Nori Aoki expressed only a few words in English during his introduction as the latest addition to the Mariners’ off-season makeover.
They were words everyone in Seattle could appreciate, though.
"I came to Seattle for the coffee," Aoki said with a chuckle, "and also to win the World Series."
The Mariners finalized a $5.5 million, one-year contract with Aoki on Thursday, including a $6 million conditional option for the 2017 season for the free-agent outfielder.
By landing another one of their off-season targets, the Mariners found their prospective leadoff hitter and a versatile player that general manager Jerry Dipoto expects to see time at all three outfield positions. Aoki will primarily be a left fielder for Seattle, but will move around as part of a five-man rotation including Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin and Nelson Cruz.
"This team already has a lot of great hitters … so I feel as long as I can get on base I’m going to have a lot of chances to score and contribute," Aoki said through an interpreter.
Seattle announced completion of the deal after Aoki passed an extensive physical following an injury-filled 2015 season. It was a closely watched examination, largely because Aoki missed most of September because of post-concussion symptoms.
Aoki was hit in the head by a pitch from NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta in early August and after sitting out three days, ran into the wall while making a catch when he returned, prompting Aoki to be placed on the seven-day concussion list. Aoki returned on Aug. 20, but the Giants announced in early September that he was suffering from post-concussion symptoms and did not play after Sept. 3.
Aoki said he’s been feeling fine and completing his off-season workout program.
"We’re very comfortable with the results," Dipoto said.
Aoki also had a broken leg last Season and played just 93 games. San Francisco turned down a $5.5 million option on Aoki and he immediately landed on Dipoto’s radar.
When healthy, Aoki’s athleticism and flexibility fit what Seattle is seeking under the new general manager. Aoki is a career .287 hitter, with a .353 on-base percentage in his four seasons since coming over from Japan. But his numbers are remarkably consistent. Aoki’s never hit higher than .288 and never lower than .285. His on-base percentage has ranged from .349 to .356. He also has a low strikeout rate and more career walks than strikeouts.
"The element of on-base ability and speed to keep our lineup moving with traffic on the basepaths that feed the middle of that lineup has a chance to be pretty good for us. We’re more contact oriented," Dipoto said.
Seattle will be Aoki’s fourth major league team after he started his career in Milwaukee and spent one season each with Kansas City and San Francisco. Aoki becomes the ninth Japanese-born player to play for the Mariners and he quickly showed his personality. Aside from the coffee quip, Aoki also drew laughs for joking that part of his contract included a "guarantee" that free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma would sign back with Seattle.
Aoki can exercise his 2017 option if he has 480 or plate appearances and does not finish the season on the disabled list because of a concussions or concussion-related issues. If he has 480 or more plate appearances but does end the season on the DL due to concussion issues, the Mariners have a $6 million option, and they would pay a $500,000 buyout if they decline it.
Aoki can make another $1.5 million annually in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $100,000 each for 400, 425, 450, 475 and 500, and $250,000 apiece for 525, 550, 575 and 600.
"I see this place as a new home and I’d like to make this my long-term home," Aoki said.