With the Seattle Mariners hoping their playoffs hopes still have a shot at being fulfilled, their eyes are also set on Norichika Aoki, their veteran leftfielder, who has been terrific in the second half of the season, and carries a player option for next season.
The soon to be 35-year old has an option for 2017 that kicks in (worth $6 million) if he gets 60 plate appearances in the next 15 games which remains for the Mariners to try and catch up with the Orioles and Blue Jays in the wild card tickets race. Not an easy task, but the Mariners do face a lot of right handed pitchers which works in Aoki’s favor, batting .292 against righties this season, walking almost as much as he struck out against them.
Overall, this has been an up and down season for the outfielder, sent twice to the minors, once for his poor early form, and then again due to some roster space issues. Aoki batted only .245 through his first 284 plate appearances, resulting in being demoted to the minors in late June. However, since his return in late July, he’s batting .317, and overall his hitting numbers are a tad lower than last season when he played for the San Francisco Giants.
According to the Mariners, they were always hoping to see him play with them in 2017, but if he hits free agency, you never know where he’ll end up. Right now, they’re giving Aoki the opportunities to vest his option, and keep him on for a second year after signing a one-year deal worth $5.5 million last winter. Aoki himself has said he’s doing a lot of things differently in the second half of the season to improve his batting numbers.
Besides Aoki, the Mariners do have to worry about Seth Smith, with a $7 million club option the Mariners have on his next season. Meanwhile, Franklin Gutierrez becomes a free agent, which means the Mariners might have a very different looking outfield next season. Aoki, Smith and Gutierrez are in the top 5 for the Mariners in plate appearances this season, without having younger outfielders out-perform them to make Seattle feel confident even if they end up losing one or more of them to another team.