After joining the Mariners on a one-year, $5.5MM deal during the winter, left fielder Nori Aoki began the season in dreadful fashion. The former Brewer, Royal and Giant hit just .245/.323/.313 over his first 284 plate appearances, which led the Mariners to option him to Triple-A Tacoma on June 24. The demotion proved effective for Aoki, who returned to the majors in late July and has since slashed .317/.363/.468 in 136 trips to the plate. As a result, the Mariners hope Aoki sticks around in 2017, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune.
“He’s been awesome,” said general manager Jerry Dipoto. “I don’t think he was ever out of our plans (for 2017). When we sent him to Triple-A, we explained to him that we were going to let him play. And whatever happens, happens.”
The Dipoto-led Mariners sent Aoki to the minors again in late August, but that trip only lasted 10 days and came on account of roster issues, per Dutton.
Whether Aoki is a Mariner in 2017 could come down to his player option. The soon-to-be 35-year-old needs another 60 PAs this season to trigger his $5MM option for next season, notes Dutton, who expects Aoki to see plenty of action during the final 15 games of the Mariners’ campaign as they try to overcome a three-game deficit in the American League wild-card race. Collecting 60 more plate trips could be difficult for Aoki, but it’s in his favor that Seattle is set to face plenty of right-handed pitchers, as Dutton writes. Aoki has slashed .292/.357/.413 and walked nearly as much as he has struck out (21 to 27) in 316 PAs versus righties this year.
“I’m doing a lot of things different,” Aoki said of his second-half success. “It’s not just one thing. I changed my bat. I changed my helmet. I changed the way I see the ball. I changed a lot of things.”