SAN FRANCISCO — Nori Aoki was surely a bit surprised when the Giants opted not to bring him back for a second season. As it turns out, the organization did him a favor.
Aoki and the Seattle Mariners finalized a deal Thursday that will pay the left fielder $5.5 million in 2016, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Giants turned down a $5.5 million option last month, opting to instead pay Aoki a $700,000 buyout. In addition to that buyout money, Aoki also now gets a $6 million player option for 2017, per Heyman, along with $1.5 million in potential incentives.
Aoki, who turns 34 in January, once looked like a lock to return to San Francisco. He grabbed the leadoff spot in spring training and had such a successful first half that manager Bruce Bochy likely would have chosen Aoki for the All-Star team had he not gotten injured. The second half was marred by one issue after another, as Aoki never quite looked the same after returning from a broken fibula.
Aoki hit just .204 in 93 second-half at-bats and his defense, never a strong suit, became a major concern. He suffered a concussion in August and didn’t appear in a game after Sept. 3. Aoki likely would have been cleared to return to the lineup had the Giants made the postseason, and he was cleared physically before returning to Japan in October.
After declining Aoki’s option, general manager Bobby Evans said management needed financial flexibility but had interest in a reunion once the starting staff was sorted out.
"To pre-determine left field today is just premature," Evans said last month.
Aoki was a fallback option, and he's now off the board. Given the depth of the outfield market, this isn’t a huge blow. The Giants could get involved with much bigger names — such as Alex Gordon or Justin Upton — if they fail to land a big-time pitcher, and they also have been aggressive in scouring the trade market. As last year's January deal with Aoki showed, there are always veteran options available late in the offseason.
For now, the focus remains pitching, specifically Zack Greinke. The Giants and Dodgers are still waiting for the Cy Young runner-up to choose between the rivals, with the expectation that he gets a five- or six-year deal worth at least $32 million per year.