Wow! The Seattle Mariners just got incredibly fortunate, their catcher Kenji Jojhima has opted out of his contract and is intending to return to Japan to finish his career there. The first Japanese catcher in the majors, Johjima’s first two seasons were solid, with his best campaign coming in his rookie season when he put up an OPS+ of 103, hitting .291/.332/.451 with 18 HRs. After the first two years his production dropped precipitously, which of course led to the idiotic decision to RESIGN him to a three-year extension for $24 million.
Thankfully for Mariners fans, they can now move on and aren’t on the hook for the remaining $16 million on his contract. While GM Jack Zduriencik denies that the team bought-out any of the contract, this turns out to be incredibly fortuitous for the team and their future. Sure, they don’t have a particularly good catcher in Rob Johnson, but he’s still better than the marginal Johjima whose OPS+s went from 103, 101, 68 and then 84 last season in only 71 games.
The 33-year-old catcher told reporters that:
After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan. 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.
Now with Johjima’s contract Adrian Beltre’s nearly $13 million coming off the books, the team has some $20 million available to spend to upgrade their team. However, since this season’s free-agent class is highly lackluster, that’s not a great boon. Perhaps this means though that they pursue someone like John Lackey, the best pitcher available on the market. Or — even worse for me and the Red Sox’ lust for Felix Hernandez — perhaps the money could be used as a starting point for a new contract for the supremely talented 23-year-old ace. Regardless, the team just got better through a subtraction that doesn’t appear to cost them anything.