Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners reach agreement with free-agent outfielder Nori Aoki

Free-agent outfielder is the Mariners’ latest addition in a busy off-season
Free-agent outfielder is the Mariners’ latest addition in a busy off-season AP

SEATTLE — Even before the Mariners completed Tuesday’s trade with Baltimore, they began racing through Wednesday at a dizzying pace in continuing to revamp their roster under new general manager Jerry Dipoto.

The day started with free-agent outfielder Nori Aoki agreeing to a one-year deal, pending a physical examination, that includes a club option for 2017.

From there, the Mariners completed two trades, including the one with the Orioles, signed a free-agent reliever, added a first baseman in a waiver claim, lost a catcher in another claim and designated a player for assignment.

"We’re taking the 10,000-foot view of putting this roster together," Dipoto said. "I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that measuring each trade as a standalone is probably not the way to view our off-season."

The Mariners also extended contract offers to all 30 remaining unsigned players on their 40-man roster prior to the 9 p.m. deadline. There were no non-tenders.

"There will be further change," Dipoto vowed. "We need to work at first base. We need to add in our bullpen. Adding at least one starting pitcher is a priority for us. Those are three areas of need."

The Mariners signed Aoki, 33, while simultaneously completing a deal that sent first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser to the Orioles for catcher/first baseman Steve Clevenger.

Aoki’s physical figures to draw scrutiny because he finished last season on the disabled list due to post-concussion issues after being hit in the head Aug. 9 by a pitch from Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs.

While Aoki continued to play after the incident, he experienced recurring lightheadedness that forced him to the disabled list in early September. He also missed a month earlier in the season because of a broken leg.

If healthy, Aoki fits the Mariners’ new preferred profile as an athletic player with on-base skills. He has a .287 average and a .353 on-base percentage in four big-league seasons since arriving from Japan.

Aoki played just 93 games last season at San Francisco because of his concussion issues in addition to a broken leg that sidelined him for month at mid-season. He still matched his career marks: a .287 average and a .353 OBP.

The Giants chose to exercise a $700,000 buyout clause rather than pick up a 5.5 million option on Aoki for next season.

DE FRATUS SIGNS

The Mariners bolstered their bullpen depth by signing free-agent Justin De Fratus, a right-hander, to a one-year deal for $750,000.

"He’s a guy who will throw 91 to 95 (mph) with a slider," Dipoto said. "He’s always had swing-and-miss capability. He’s coming off a down year. There’s no getting around that.

"That’s what made him available at 28 years old."

The Mariners are banking on a bounce-back year from De Fratus, who compiled a 5.51 ERA last season in 61 games for Philadelphia. He had a 2.39 ERA over 54 games in 2014.

"We felt…we might be able to find better ways to get the most out of him," Dipoto said. "We’re not looking for him to be a long or multi-inning reliever but rather a short-burst reliever. Just let his stuff play."

De Fratus, 28, became a free agent in October when he rejected an outright assignment to the minors upon clearing waivers.

WAIVER CLAIMS

The Mariners acquired first baseman Andy Wilkins in a waiver claim from Baltimore and lost catcher John Hicks on waivers to Minnesota.

Wilkins, 27, is a six-year pro whom the Orioles acquired in a Sept. 6 waiver claim from Toronto. He opened last season in the Dodgers’ system at Triple-A Oklahoma City before the Blue Jays obtained him in a cash deal.

"He gives us a nice two-options player who has upper-levels experience," Dipoto said. "We could pair with Jesus (Montero at first base) if the season started today.

"Our goal between now and opening day is going to be to add to that."

The Mariners cleared space for Wilkins by designating left-hander Edgar Olmos for assignment. Olmos, 25, was 1-0 while allowed seven runs in 14 innings over six appearances, including two starts.

Wilkins batted .251 last season in Triple-A with 18 homers and 79 RBIs in 126 games.

The Mariners designated Hicks, 26, for assignment on Nov. 23 to clear roster space after signing veteran free-agent catcher Chris Iannetta.

Hicks was a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft who made his big-league debut last season by going 2-for-32 in 17 games. He has a .280 average in 403 games over five minor-league seasons.

KIVLEHAN TO TEXAS

Utilityman Pat Kivlehan is heading to Texas as player to be named later in the Nov. 16 trade that netted outfielder Leonys Martin and right-hander Anthony Bass for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen and outfielder James Jones.

The Mariners recently added Kivlehan, 25, to their 40-man roster to prevent him from being available in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. He batted .256 last season at Tacoma with 22 homers and 73 RBIs in 123 games.

"You have to give to get in trades," Dipoto said, "and when we made this trade, (Kivlehan) was the guy all along. We carried him up until today to allow for rosters to be set and players to be moved around.

"This was a move we felt we had to make to get the center fielder that we coveted (in Martin)."

Kivlehan was a fourth-round pick in 2012 and entered the season ranked No. 7 on the TNT Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects.

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