I just got off the phone with Alan Nero, agent for Kenji Johjima, and he said some interesting things. For one, he confirmed that the Mariners are free and clear from the remaining $16 million on Johjima’s contract.
“He walks completely on his contract here, and we start fresh,” Nero said. “He’s made this decision without regard to financial consequence. He’s a free agent in Japan, and I’ll negotiate the best offer I can.”
With regard to rumors Johjima will sign with the Hanshin Tigers, Nero said it is just that, a rumor.
“They need a catcher, and Hanshin is a great organization. I’d compare them to the Cubs. It could well be where he ends up, but we don’t have a clue at this point. Kenji is so respectful, before he did anything, he sent a personal letter to Mr. Yamauchi (Nintendo chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi) thanking him. There are a lot of roots in Japan he still has to navigate through.”
I asked Nero about his quote in the Seattle Times at the end of the 2008 season, in which he confirmed that Johjima had an opt-out clause following the 2009 season, but said that it had specific language limiting the reasons why the catcher could leave.
“It has to do with something catastrophic happening to a member of his family, that would force him to return to Japan,” Nero said at the time, declining to get any more specific. “Not him bailing because he’s unhappy.”
Nero said today: “That might have been the thought process behind it, but he had a clause in his contract that basically said he could go home when he wanted to go home. We put it in to handle those kinds of things if he had a personal situation. It just got to the point that’s what he wanted. He felt it was time to go home. He gave it a lot of thought, and considered the personal and professional side. He wanted to return while he was still on top of his game. We support him and respect him. There’s no issue with the Mariners. He had a wonderful four years. He has tremendous respect for everyone there. This is not some sort of controversy.”
Nero added that Johjima made the decision after returning home to Japan at the end of the season.
“He agonized over the decision, and made the decision on his own,” Nero said. “We let him do this on his own. He basically notified the club. It wasn’t like we all participated. It all came from Kenji and his heart.”