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.
Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.
Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).
Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.
David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.
Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:
[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.
The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.