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.