Kenji Johjima had two years and $16 million remaining on the contract extension that Bill Bavasi misguidedly handed out as one of his final acts as Mariners general manager, but the 33-year-old catcher has decided to accept an undisclosed buyout from the team and finish his career in Japan.
According to Larry LaRue of the Tacoma News Tribune, Johjima’s interest in returning home increased when the Mariners informed him that he’d likely be a backup in 2010 after hitting just .247/.296/.406 this season and .227/.277/.332 last year.
Here’s what Johjima said about the decision to resume playing in Japan after four seasons in Seattle:
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.
Johjima’s big-league career began with back-to-back strong seasons, but his decline since then has been significant enough that he’s no longer a starting-caliber backstop, let alone one worth $8 million per year. Assuming that the undisclosed buyout amount isn’t more than a fraction of the $16 million Johjima is owed, the Mariners stand to benefit quite a bit from his decision.
Rob Johnson replaces Johjima atop the catching depth chart for now, but 25-year-old prospect Adam Moore is just about MLB-ready after hitting .309/.391/.489 at Double-A and .294/.346/.429 at Triple-A. Transitioning to Moore as the starter behind the plate with Johnson as his veteran backup figures to be no less productive than Johjima even without factoring in the millions saved.
The Brewers offloaded outfielder Michael Choice’s contract to the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, per a team announcement on Friday. Choice signed a minor league deal with the Brewers in early May, but did not earn a major league stint in 11 weeks with the team.
It’s been two full years since the 27-year-old outfielder snagged a big league opportunity of any kind. He last appeared with the Rangers in 2015 and played in just one game, striking out in his only at-bat. His production rate sagged through three consecutive minor league assignments with the Indians, Orioles and Brewers and peaked in 2016 after slashing .246/.304/.456 with 14 home runs for the Indians’ Triple-A Columbus. He was off to a decent start this season for the Brewers’ Double-A Biloxi, working a .272/.349/.503 batting line with nine home runs and an .852 OPS through his first 195 PA.
Choice is poised to join several other ex-major leaguers on the Heroes’ roster, including left-hander Andy Van Hekken, right-hander Jake Brigham and infielder/outfielder Danny Dorn.
6:43 PM: Danny Dorn no longer plays for the Nexen Heroes, as he was released to clear roster space for Choice.
Our old friend Joe Posnanski tackles a venerable topic over at MLB.com: guys you totally forgot played for a given team. Mostly superstars who had brief stops at non-signature stations at the end of their careers. Or guys, like Mike Piazza and Reggie Jackson, who were with a team for a blink of an eye in between more famous way stations.
We’ve all had this conversation before: remember Willie Mays with the Mets? Doc Gooden with the Astros? John Smoltz with the Cardinals? Heck, I had forgotten about Smoltz with the Cardinals and he was a star on my favorite team once upon a time.
Posnanski calls them “Irony Jerseys.” That’s pretty appropriate, as one can totally imagine someone buying, say, that Dale Murphy Rockies jersey in the name of obscurity. Whatever you call it, it’s a good read.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get my Ted Simmons Braves jersey for a party at some place uptown that you’ve probably never heard of.