SAN FRANCISCO — Nori Aoki is offering a bold challenge to World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, one of his new San Francisco Giants teammates.
“I've heard that Madison likes to wrestle, I think I'm going to initiate the wrestling,” the left fielder joked Tuesday.
Aoki brings more than just a big personality and sense of humor to the World Series champions. Manager Bruce Bochy is projecting him as the team's starting left fielder, while noting Aoki's versatility allows him to fill in for Angel Pagan in center field and Hunter Pence in right as needed. Pagan will begin spring training next month as the leadoff hitter, another job Aoki can handle with his speed and ability to steal bases.
“Of course I'd like to hit at the top of the order but that's going to be his decision,” Aoki said, speaking through regular interpreter Kosuke Inaji, who joins him in the move to the Bay Area.
Aoki finalized his $4.7 million, one-year contract Monday and was formally introduced a day later at AT&T Park. Both sides appear hopeful he could stick around beyond this season.
Bochy figures Aoki might reconsider the wrestling match once he lines up next to the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Bumgarner.
“That may be our opening day deal, to have these two get in the ring. That would be entertaining, I will say, speed against bulk,” Bochy said. “I don't know if he'll stay with that comment once he stands next to Madison. He may back off that one.”
Aoki played last season with Kansas City, which lost the World Series to the Giants in seven games.
“I've always liked the city of San Francisco but not only that I've always had admiration for the Giants and the history they've had,” Aoki said. “Having played against them the last three years, they played together as a team. They have a team that has a chance to play for a championship each year.”
One order of business off the field will be doing something nice for bench coach Ron Wotus, who has previously worn Aoki's new No. 23 — through three World Series championship runs the past five years, too.
“Twenty-three is a lucky number to me,” Aoki said. “I know that one of the coaches wears No. 23. I heard he likes to play golf, maybe I can buy him some golf clubs and maybe even a Rolex.”
Given the departure of switch-hitting slugger Pablo Sandoval to Boston last fall, San Francisco's brass realized that without that power, the Giants might have to find creative ways to score runs with aggressive baserunning and contributions from throughout the lineup to fill Panda void.
Bochy said Aoki is a tough out and has the ability to hit to all fields and is equally as reliable on defense. Outfielder Gregor Blanco, who reached agreement on a $7.5 million, two-year contract Sunday, will come off the bench and spell players for days off.
“He kind of reminds of Pablo a little bit, he's not going to hit the home runs like Pablo,” Bochy said of Aoki. “We acquired him to play.”
Aoki, 33, receives a $4 million base salary this year, and the Giants have a $5.5 million option for 2016 with a $700,000 buyout. The option would become mutual if Aoki has 550 plate appearances this year, and he would receive the buyout if he exercises the option and the team declines.
Aoki can earn an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses each year based on plate appearances: $100,000 each for 400, 425, 475 and 500; and $250,000 apiece for 525, 550, 575 and 600. The team will release him at the end of the contract, making him a free agent again.
Aoki hit .285 with a home run, six triples, 22 doubles and 43 RBIs over 132 games in his lone season with the Royals after two in Milwaukee. He also stole 17 bases.
“We know our clubhouse is under construction but our roster is getting closer and closer to being set,” assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. “We see Nori as a tremendous athlete, a tremendous presence.”
The Giants have yet to make a corresponding move to add Aoki to the 40-man roster, preferring to use the time they have before the contract is filed with Major League Baseball. Sabean was sorry to miss Aoki's introductory news conference; he is in Arizona with a respiratory condition and doctors advised him not to fly for a few days.
“Overall we know it's going to be difficult to replace Sandoval, period,” Sabean said. “Every team develops its own identity. It's just going to be a different look.”