The Mariners have optioned outfielder Nori Aoki to Triple-A, the club announced. His service time means that he had to clear revocable option waivers first, but couldn’t elect free agency without sacrificing his guaranteed salary.
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Seattle is in need of pitching reinforcements and the roster space to fit them, but the decision was also tied to Aoki’s struggles — especially against lefties, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns (Twitter links). Aoki says he is on board with the move and is prepared to work his way back.
It’s an especially notable move given that Aoki, 34, has never spent time in the minors except on rehab assignments. He went straight to the big leagues after signing from Japan back in 2012. Aoki was also a fairly significant free agent acquisition for the M’s, who guaranteed him $5.5MM over the winter.
At the time, it seemed like a nice value on a sturdy veteran. After posting league-average or better batting lines over each of the past four seasons, though, Aoki has scuffled to a .245/.323/.313 slash over his 284 plate appearances thus far. Aoki has also been gunned down on seven of eleven steal attempts.
The struggles go fairly deep for Aoki. He has been dreadful against opposing southpaws, with a .434 OPS. He’s hitting more groundballs and less line drives than ever, and his infield pop rate has skied to an ugly 17.1%, so the contact profile looks quite a bit different than usual.