Christmas came early for the Mariners yesterday, as Kenji Johjima has decided to opt out of the remaining two years of his contract and return to Japan. The 33-year-old backstop was due 16 million over the final two years of his extension which he just inked last April.
The Mariners have multiple soon-to-be free agents on their roster. Adrian Beltre and Erik Bedard top the list, but Russell Branyan is also unrestricted. The only safe bet on returning seems to be with Branyan, but stranger things have happened. The Mariners also have a potential arbitration hearing with Felix Hernandez lined up, and given his season, he should see a substantial raise.
Johjima only appeared in 71 games and recorded a career low 258 plate appearances in which he looked more like the morbid 2008 version of himself rather than the solid 2006/2007 editions. He split playing time throughout the year with Rob Johnson – a prototypical backup catcher, right down to the hyperbole about his defensive abilities – and with top prospect Adam Moore not too far off from Safeco, odds are Johjima wasn’t getting 500 plate appearances again anytime soon.
Despite this rather unceremonious exit, Johjima’s initial signing is a bright spot. He combined for 7.4 WAR during his time here in the States – a value of 29.4 million – while receiving around 25 million in salary. That winds up being a net gain, and whatever jerseys or television ratings he gained through the Japan fan base that previously didn’t embrace Ichiro – do such people even exist? – makes his employment a net gain for the M’s.