In a stunning development, catcher Kenji Johjima has told the Mariners he is exercising the out-clause in his contract, allowing him to opt out of the final two years of his deal.
Johjima signed a controversial three-year extension in April of 2008, a $24-million deal that paid him $8 million this past season and was to pay him $8 million in both 2010 and 2011. Instead, however, the 33-year-old Johjima will return to Japan.
And the Mariners just sent out another press release announcing that all of Don Wakamatsu’s coaches have been retained except third-base coach Bruce Hines
“On behalf of the Seattle Mariners ownership group, and together with our players, our manager, coaches and everyone in our front office, I want to thank Joh for his service to the Mariners over the past four years,” Mariners’ chief executive officer Howard Lincoln said in a statement. “I know I speak for everyone when I say that Joh is not just a great ballplayer, he’s also a great guy. All of us have enjoyed his warm smile, his engaging personality, his competitive spirit and his friendship. We wish Joh and his family the very best as he continues his baseball career in Japan.”
“After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan,” said Johjima in the release. “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.”
Johjima was a career .268 hitter in his four Major League seasons, with 84 doubles, 1 triple, 48 home runs and 198 RBI in 462 games with the Mariners. A pair of injuries limited him to 71 games this year. Johjima holds the American League record for hits by a rookie catcher (147 in 2006). His 18 homers in ’06 tied the Mariners club mark for HR by a catcher. Johjima caught 19 of 38 (50%) of opposing players attempting to steal this season, and nailed 89 of 263 (37.8%) in his career.
“We are very appreciative of everything Kenji has done for this organization over the past four seasons,” general manager Jack 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. As a veteran of 14 professional seasons, we respect his decision. We will always consider Kenji a member of the Mariners family.”
Johjima’s departure will ease a catching dilemma for the Mariners as rookie Adam Moore emerges as a candidate to be the regular. They also have Rob Johnson, who shared playing time with Johjima this year.
“We are very proud of Kenji, not only for the way he has played these last four years, but for making this very difficult decision,” said Alan Nero and Yoshi Hasegawa of Octagon Baseball (Johjima’s agent). “We wish him the best of luck both professionally and personally.”
We’ll have more later after a conference call with Zduriencik. It’s unclear what the Mariners’ financial obligation will be to Johjima, but if they free up $16 million from the payroll, that would be a very nice windfall.
As for Hines, Zduriencik said, “We appreciate Bruce’s work, efforts and contributions during this past season. We wish him the very best in his professional career, but the club has decided to go in a different direction.”
Hines, who turns 52 on Nov. 7, joined the Mariners coaching staff after serving as the minor league field coordinator for the Los Angeles Angels from 2006-08. He was previously a first base coach/outfield instructor in 1991 with the then California Angels. His minor league coaching career with the Angels included four seasons as an infield instructor (2002-05), one as a roving outfield instructor (2001) and three as a roving defense instructor (1998-2000).
Retained for the 2010 season were bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Rick Adair, hitting coach Alan Cockrell, first base coach Lee Tinsley, bullpen coach John Wetteland and performance coach Steve Hecht.