Astros Claim Aoki Off Waivers
Four Free Agents Cut From Roster

Aoki: Adds lefty stick, kick
(c) Associated Press
The Astros wasted no time making their first move of the offseason, adding a player who is seemingly the antithesis of the type of hitter Jeff Luhnow covets. Nori Aoki, a 34-year-old outfielder, was claimed off waivers from Seattle on Thursday and he checks off several items from Houston's wish list.

The Japanese import will be spending time with his fifth big league club after appearing with the Brewers, Royals, Giants and Mariners. At 5-9, with the traditional slap-swing approach of Japanese hitters, Aoki (pron ah-OH-key) produces little power but he is Mr. Consistency at the plate. He has hit between .283 and .288 in all five seasons, with an on-base percentage (OBP) between .349 and .356. He'll provide a left-handed bat to the lineup which is losing several left-handed sticks (more on that below), and can easily be slotted in the first or second spot in the order.

He can play all three outfield spots but expect him to find a home in left field, possibly as a platoon. Aoki will be under club control for two seasons and will be eligible for arbitration this winter. He earned $4 million from the M's last year and is expected to be signed in the $6-7 million range for 2017.

The Astros seemed to prioritize low-average, high-power hitters in rebuilding their lineup with Jose Altuve providing the one player in the batting order who focused on reaching bases rather than rounding them. But Altuve added power last year (24 homers) and was dropped into the third spot in the order. George Springer (29 homers) seemed miscast as the leadoff hitter so Aoki can be the more traditional sort of table-setter the team needs.

Houston officially cut ties with four veterans - pitcher Doug Fister, catcher Jason Castro, infielder Luis Valbuena and outfielder Colby Rasmus - as the free agent period officially began. The addition of Aoki puts the current roster at 37. The Astros will announce on Friday if they will pick up the player options on C/DH Evan Gattis and reliever Pat Neshek. Expect Gattis to stay and Neshek to be bought out.

Luhnow hopes to beef up the starting rotation that was a disappointment in 2016 plus add a catcher and a solid left-handed hitter who can play the outfield and/or first base. The Astros are set in right field (Springer), second base (Altuve), shortstop (Carlos Correa) and third base (either Alex Bregman or Yuli Gurriel). Gattis and supersub Marwin Gonzalez are also expected to be among the 12-13 non-pitchers that make the club next April. All but Gonzalez are right-handed hitters.

- Bob Hulsey