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.