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Free Agent Profile: Nori Aoki

A popular target of Mariner fans, Nori Aoki would certainly fit a need for the team. Will he be worth the investment?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

There goes another one. Yesterday, Alex Rios signed a one-year deal worth $11 million with the Kansas City Royals. The external options to fill the Mariners' right field hole continue to dwindle. Yesterday, I took a broad look at some of these options. Today, I'll examine one of these options in a little bit more depth, Nori Aoki.

As the dominoes have fallen this offseason, Nori Aoki's name has risen out of the milieu as one that many of us would be pleased with as the Mariners' right fielder. He's certainly not a splashy name nor will he provide oodles of value. He is a reliable fielder who can swing a decent stick and he won't cost an arm and a leg to acquire.

To be clear, the Mariners and Aoki haven't been mentioned in any rumors together this offseason. He was connected to the Orioles earlier this month but their interest was described as "lukewarm." Aoki seems like the kind of free agent who will sign a contract seemingly out of nowhere. Will the Mariners be that surprise team?

The Profile

Nori Aoki played in the Nippon Profession Baseball League for eight years before being posted by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. In Japan, he won the Most Valuable Rookie award in 2005, two batting titles, and was a seven time All-Star in his eight year career. His rights were awarded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 and he was signed to a two-year contract. Last year, he played on the American League Champion Kansas City Royals. In his three years in the majors, he's averaged just over 2.0 fWAR per year and has provided value in the field and with the bat.

At the plate, he uses his superior bat control to spray hits to all fields with very little power. He doesn't strikeout much and walks at a decent clip. He's also run a reverse split over his brief MLB career.

Career wRC+ vs. Left

117

Career wRC+ vs. Right

102

Whether or not you believe a balanced lineup should be a priority for the Mariners, Aoki would seem to alleviate the team's concern over a lefty-heavy lineup. He's also capable of putting up some decent stolen base totals, although his speed has declined as he's aged.

His defensive value is a major point of contention. The advanced defensive metrics are generally impressed with his work, UZR more so than DRS. He's averaged just under 4 runs saved as a right fielder per UZR. DRS paints a more confusing picture -- his three year average is pretty similar to UZR but it includes a -8 mark in 2014. That negative mark is more closely aligned with his scouting reports -- taking odd and meandering routes to the ball at times but using his speed to make up ground. The difference in defensive metrics is the difference between a 2.3 fWAR season and a 1.0 bWAR season in 2014.

The Projection

2015 Steamer Projection - Nori Aoki

AB

HR

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

fWAR

594

6

.092

.279

.343

.371

104

1.5

Nori Aoki has been remarkably consistent during his three year career in the majors and Steamer seems him continuing this run of consistency. He's projected to bounce back with a little more power while his batting average and on base percentage stay consistent with his career averages. His overall value comes down to which defensive metric you trust more, UZR or DRS. He's projected for 1.5 fWAR but if DRS is more accurate, then that figure drops towards replacement level.

The Cost

Aoki won't cost very much to sign, in dollars or in years. The FanGraphs crowd guessed he would be signed for two years with an average annual value of $7 million. I think there could be a third year tacked on with a discount in AAV, but the FanGraphs' estimate is a good starting point. That's a low-cost investment in a low-ceiling, low-risk player. The market for these types of players usually moves at a glacial pace giving the Mariners time to look into some of the other options on the market.

The Fit

While Nori Aoki would definitely fill a need for the Mariners, I'm not sure he's the one the Mariners will be pursuing. It's been mentioned that the Mariners already have two outfielders who share a similar batting profile with Aoki. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- runs are runs and hits are hits no matter who's getting them -- but the current front office for the Mariners has shown a tendency to fixate on a certain player profile. Aoki just doesn't fit the mold the Mariners are looking for.

We also have to consider the fluctuation in his value depending on his defensive play. If he's truly a good defender who occasionally takes an odd route or two, then the investment is probably worth it. If he's an average or below average defender who is only losing a step in the field due to his advancing age, then he's no better than any of the internal candidates the Mariners could throw out into right field.

That's really the crux of the matter. Would Aoki provide any more value than Stefen Romero or James Jones? Romero and Jones are cheap and young-ish but haven't proven anything at the major league level. Aoki is more expensive and older but has a higher, if limited, ceiling. My gut says Aoki would be an upgrade over any of our internal options but it's not as clear cut as many of us would like it to be.

The market for Aoki is probably pretty tame and will continue to be that way into January and maybe even February. This gives the Mariners time to wait and see how the rest of the outfield market shakes out. Aoki makes for a good fall back option and I doubt the Mariners see him as anything more than that. I think we should trust them on that this time.