Mariners Insider

Kenji Johjima opts out of final two years

Post by Larry Larue / The News Tribune on Oct. 19, 2009 at 9:32 am with 16 Comments »
October 19, 2009 11:35 am

Kenji Johjima
Kenji Johjima
One of the thorniest issues the Seattle Mariners faced – what to do with catcher Kenji Johjima – has been resolved: The 33-year-old catcher has decided to return to Japan with two years left on his contract.

“After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan,” Johjima. “I have had a wonderful experience competing at the Major League level. The last four years have been extraordinary, with great teammates and great coaches.

“I will always be indebted to the Mariners organization for giving me the opportunity to follow my dream. This was a very difficult decision, both professionally and personally. I feel now is the time to go home, while I still can perform at a very high level. Playing close to family and friends was a major factor. I will miss the Seattle fans and their gracious support. Thank you all.”

After two solid seasons, offensively, Johjima’s offensive numbers dropped off each of the past two years, and the team believed his work behind the plate dropped off as well. With the emergence of younger catchers Rob Johnson and rookie Adam Moore.

Was Johjima forced out with $16 million left on his contract? No. Kenji had an option to return to Japan and used it – leaving all $16 million on the table by walking away.

GM Jack Zduriencik tactfully said the decision was all Johjima’s.

“We are very appreciative of everything Kenji has done for this organization over the past four seasons,” Zduriencik said. “We respect his decision to return home. Joh has been a terrific teammate and a great competitor. His work ethic, production and desire to win made him a positive role model. We wish Kenji the very best and will follow his career.”

Signed before the 2006 season – at the behest of Japanese ownership – Johjima batted .291 with 18 home runs and 76 RBI over 144 games of his first season. Those were numbers he’d never repeat.

More damaging was the philosophical difference between a Japanese catcher and big-league pitchers he handled. Johjima’s 11 seasons playing in Japan had locked him into pitch-calling that often flew in the face of the way his staff wanted him to work in Seattle.

Johjima liked to stay away from the fastball early in the count and rely upon it heavily when a pitcher fell behind. A number of Mariners veteran pitchers – from Jarrod Washburn and Felix Hernandez – went to their manager and asked to work with another catcher.

Over the course of his career, Joh caught some great games, made adjustments with his throwing and became one of the better catchers at throwing runners out.

Those who knew him best, however, say the years of being second-guessed by pitchers weighed on him, and he wanted to play closer to home, where he remains a star beyond reproach.

Leave a comment Comments → 16
  1. brigadeer says:

    That is a good start. Now have the same talk with Silva.

  2. Seahawks2620 says:

    I wish that I could say I was sad to see Kenji going, but i’m really not. I appreciate all he has done, but outside of his first years here he didn’t do much. He is a hell of a lot better in Japan and I hope he does really well over there. How much was the buy out?

  3. There is a God!!!!

  4. bigmike04 says:

    larry with his opting out on his contract, do the M’s owe him any money?

  5. bigmike04 says:

    I ask that because if his contract is still in the budget than the plan would be go with Johnson and Moore. But if he contract is off the hook will the M’s Pursude a vetran backup that comes cheap like Burke or Fasano or someone of defensive mind caliber that way Adam Moore can get more seasoning at Tacoma.

  6. Larry Larue says:

    after talking to jack z, we’ve learned there was no buyout – kenji walked away from the last two years on his deal.

    that means the team will have $8 million off the books for 2010, and will look for a veteran catcher.

  7. reaverill says:

    Classy move on Johjima’s part. He walked away from a lot of money, but should get plenty of playing time back in Japan. I truly wish him success and happiness.

  8. longco44 says:

    Lets give Silva the 16 million extra over the next two years and extend his contract. Everyone loves Silva

  9. Do they really need a veteran catcher? Unless Johnson isn’t fully recovered from his surgeries, I’d think a combo of Moore & Johnson would be at least in the top 10 in baseball with a huge possible upside. Even if they think RJ may not be ready until June, I think both him & Moore have so much potential, that I’d suggest signing Jamie Burke to back up or platoon with Moore (& act as a teacher) until RJ is 100%.

  10. To add to my previous point, I’d like to see the M’s spend big $’s on the big areas of need: OFFENSE at 1b, 3b, LF & SS + starting pitching.

  11. bigmike04 says:

    Moo they need a vetran catcher that is cheap like Burke or fasano and not a catcher who looking to get pay like some catchers.

  12. The thing that bothers me is both Wak & Z are talking like signing a catcher is now a major priority. We’re NOT going to carry 3 catchers. So do we send Moore to Tacoma for another year, or cut Johnson? I need to remember that Z really seems to know what he’s doing……………………..

  13. Pray4Peace says:

    I really wish the Joh man success too. He went out with class and did forfeit a lot of money by doing so. You don’t see that much in baseball or any sport for that matter these days but these days 16 million seems like drop in the bucket. Anyway, Good Luck Kenji!

  14. hellomouthbreathers says:

    Best call he’s made in years!

  15. Thankeesai says:

    A J-media beat writer wrote his thoughts on Joh’s departure. He said he heard the news the same way most did–via the e-mail message from the club. Then he was present for Z’s phone conference, which he said was pretty standard–party line as we had agreed. He also said he felt it was very unlike Z in that it came out so “unnatural” and “false.”

    He wanted to see what the player reactions would be so he e-mailed Roland Smith asking if they could talk on the phone. RS suggested a meeting at a coffee shop instead.

    “Q: Did you know about this? RS: I had a feeling something was up early last week.

    RS: You know, I learned a lot from Kenji. I think he was misunderstood.

    The media and fan reaction was delight in seeing Joh go. They felt Johnson was the better catcher because of his CERA.

    RS: How else would it be? That’s like comparing Felix’s ERA with the other pitchers’. Of course, Johnson’s would be lower if he catches the better pitchers.

    The reporter said McP often brought that up to the media corp in support of Joh but most of the media had their agenda and didn’t pay any attention.

    RS did not mention any names in particular but he did not deny that Joh just didn’t get along with some of the pitchers.

    RS: I often heard complaints about why he would call for certain pitches. I thought that was ridiculous complaint since the pitcher has the final say on what pitch to throw. I think they just used him as a scapegoat. I suppose they could always use “language barrier” or “lack of communication” as excuses. I think they just blamed their own poor performances on Joh.

    RS: Joh helped me in many ways. He knew me well–when I was going well or poorly. He would tell me if I am opening up my shoulder too early or if my arm was dropping too low. He was a catcher that really knew the pitcher well.

    RS: Kenji also taught me a lot about pitching fundamentals. He would tell how important it was to get a strike with the first pitch. I used to think, what’s the difference. I could get a strike on the second pitch if I miss the first. But it’s not the same whether you get the strike first and go 1-1 or the other way around. He would teach me things like that during the game and at the pre-game meetings.

    RS: He also helped me with his arm. If I use a quick step, a runner would not even try to steal knowing about Joh’s arm. Even when I forget and use the high kick sometimes, Joh would bail me out with his throws. It’s not just that you get a bonus out but it can change the flow of the game. The situation would be totally different if it went the other way. His arm used to save a lot of pitchers that way.

    RS: I can understand how he can get lonely for home. I am from Australia myself and I don’t have friends and family here American players have friends in all the cities we visit and sometimes I get envious. Kenji never complained but I realize that he has three little kids.

    The reporter revealed that Joh had told him several years ago that of all the guys in the BP then, RS had the best chance to emerge as a decent starter. In those days, RS was just another middle reliever and no one thought much of his future including RS himself.

    Joh was right. RS had a great year this season.

    RS: (Choking back some emotions) Did he really say that about me? Gee, I really wish him all the best for the future.”

    And the rest of you out here who are foolish enough to believe that either Johnson or the new rookie can fill Joh’s shoes should think twice, if you think at all. Get over your anti-Japanese sentiment for just a bit because you’re city is losing the advantage it once had by making a good decision regarding Ichiro.

  16. dave8557 says:

    Great news. The M’s are instantly better. I also respect Johjima a little more for walking away, rather than hanging around collecting money he doesn’t deserve. So now the M’s can use the extra money to possibly find an outfielder, or a starting pitcher. They don’t need to go out and find another catcher. They have too many catchers as it is. Now is the time for Adam Moore to step up, with Rob Johnson in reserve.

    Carlton Fisk came up from A ball in 1972 because Bob Montgomery was injured. Thurman Munson came up to get his shot while Jake Gibbs hung around in case it didn’t work. Let Adam Moore get a decent try.

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