Not long after extension, Johjima spoke of unhappiness over playing time

After the initial shock of learning that catcher Kenji Johjima was leaving the Mariners with two years and $16 million left on his contract, the general feeling among some in the organization is that it comes as no tremendous surprise. Johjima, a proud player who half-jokingly said he wanted to catch all 162 games, had lost considerable playing time the past two years and he didn’t hide his disappointment in the situation.

Relief pitcher Mark Lowe remembers having a conversation about it with Johjima midway through the 2008 season. Lowe reached the big leagues with the Mariners in 2006, Johjima’s first season in Seattle, and the two had a good relationship, Lowe said.

“I talked to him last year about it during batting practice one day,” Lowe said. “We were in the outfield at Shea (Stadium). He told me, ‘I don’t care how much money I’m making. I don’t play for the money. I want to play every day.’ “

That’s consistent with what Johjima said this afternoon in a conference call with Japanese reporters (he declined to have a similar call with English-speaking media). He said playing time was the key issue in his decision to return to Japan, and that he believed the Mariners were committed more to younger catchers Rob Johnson and Adam Moore.

The playing time issue conflicts with the “family and friends” reason attributed to Johjima in the news release from the Mariners on Monday.

Johjima’s outfield talk with Lowe occurred during the Mariners’ interleague series against the Mets in late June, 2008. About two months earlier, on April 25, the Mariners and Johjima had agreed to that three-year, $24 million extension which we now know included the opt-out clause.

However, it already had been a sour season for Johjima, the new contract notwithstanding. On the day of his news conference to announce the extension, Johjima was batting .200. By mid-June, his playing time suffered as the Mariners, already in the throes of a terrible season, began looking at players who might (or might not) help them in the future.

They called up Jeff Clement, the former first-round draft pick who was seen as the catcher of the future or, if his defense didn’t improve, a possible first baseman or DH. Clement started seven of the final 11 games in June, 2008, as Johjima began spending more time on the bench. After starting three straight from June 15-17, Johjima started only four times the rest of the month and none in back-to-back games.

Johjima’s playing time diminished each season he was with the Mariners, from 144 games in 2006 to 135 in 2007, 112 in 2008 and 71 this year. Injuries played a part in that, but so did Johjima’s hitting slump and the preference of some pitchers over the years (Jamie Moyer, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez) to have others catch them. It wore on him.

“When he first came over, he was the guy guaranteed to catch every single game,” Lowe said. “Things have changed a lot in our organization. I know he always wanted to play. It’s a long season, it’s a grind. If you’re not happy, it makes you miserable.”

My take? This should be an amicable separation for both parties.

Johjima will go back to Japan and finish his career happily. The Mariners, while saying this creates a lot of uncertainty with their catching (which it does, considering the offseason surgeries of Johnson and the inexperience of Moore), have about $8 million each of the next two years to add to the money they’ll use on their greatest needs — offense, a veteran catcher and a new contract for Felix Hernandez.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (85) leaps over Seattle Seahawks defensive back Marquise Blair (27) on his way to a touchdown after caching pass against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Grading the Seahawks in their 23-20 OT loss to the Steelers

An improved performance in the second half bumped the grades higher, despite the defeat.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith (56), defensive end Henry Mondeaux (99), left, and defensive end Chris Wormley (95), right, during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Late fumble dooms Seahawks in overtime loss to Steelers

Seattle came back after trailing 14-0 at halftime but couldn’t put together a game-winning drive.

Central Washington linebacker Donte Hamilton, a Kamiak High School alum. (Jacob Thompson / CWU Athletics)
Kamiak alum has been dominating force for CWU football team

Linebacker Donte Hamilton as been named GNAC Defensive Player of the Week three times in five weeks.

Arlington's Levi Younger reaches out for a pass during the game against Marysville-Pilchuck on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Arlington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington stuns Marysville Pilchuck in Wesco 3A North showdown

The Eagles shut down 3A No. 3-ranked Marysville Pilchuck’s high-powered ground attack in a 28-14 win.

The Herald's prep football roundup. (Photo by Elaine Thompson)
Prep football roundup for Friday, Oct. 15

Prep football roundup for Friday, Oct. 15 and Saturday, Oct. 16: (Note… Continue reading

UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich scores a touchdown next to Washington defensive back Asa Turner during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington falls to 2-4 with close home loss to UCLA

The Huskies fail to come up with a cluth drive late and fall to the Bruins 24-17.

Washington State offensive lineman Jarrett Kingston (52) lifts wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. while celebrating Jackson's touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Washington State rallies to beat Stanford

Max Borghi scores with 1:30 left in the game as the Cougars come back for a close 34-31 win.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Gustav Nyquist, left, passes in front of Seattle Kraken defenseman Haydn Fleury during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Kraken lose to Blue Jackets in overtime

Brandon Tanev scores and Philipp Grubauer makes 23 saves, but Seattle drops its second game.

Kevin Clark / The Herald

***Silvertips Special Sections*****
Yan Khomenko signals for substitution Sunday night at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Wa on September 6th, 2015

Sports:  Silvertips Special Section
Shot on: 09/06/15
Silvertips blank T-birds, win 4th straight to open season

Jackson Berezowski scores twice and Koen MacInnes makes 31 saves in Everett’s 3-0 win over Seattle.

Most Read