SEATTLE — The Mariners’ Kenji Johjima opted out of the final two years of his contract, allowing him to sign with a Japanese team.
In April 2008, Seattle had signed the 33-year-old catcher to a $24 million, three-year extension covering 2009-11. He gave up salaries of $7.7 million next year and $8.1 million in 2011.
His deal gave him the right to end it by Nov. 15 for the purpose of finishing his career in Japan.
“After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan,” Johjima said in a statement Monday. “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.”
When he wasn’t injured this year, Johjima lost playing time to rookie Rob Johnson. The Mariners favored Johnson’s handling of the pitching staff over Johjima’s offense.
Johjima signed with the Mariners in 2005 after playing 11 seasons with Fukuoka of Japan’s Pacific League. He was the first Japanese-born catcher to play in the majors.
Johjima hit .268 in his four seasons with Seattle, including 84 doubles, 48 homers and 198 RBIs in 462 games. Johjima holds the A.L. record for hits by a rookie catcher (147 in 2006). His 18 homers in his first season tied the Mariners club mark for most by a catcher.
“We respect his decision to return home. Joh has been a terrific teammate and a great competitor,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “His work ethic, production and desire to win made him a positive role model.”
No decision from Griffey
Zduriencik said he spoke with Ken Griffey Jr. about the possibility of returning next year but no decision seems imminent.
“We had some talks with Ken at the end (of the season),” Zduriencik said. “I have not talked to Ken recently, but I’m sure we’ll get to that. At this moment in time, everybody’s kind of winding down at the end of the season and kind of engaged in the playoffs.”
Griffey said after the final game Oct. 4 that he would like to return for another year, but a final decision would be based on the desires of his family and the Mariners.
Third-base coach leaves
Third-base coach Bruce Hines is the only Seattle Mariners coach not returning for the 2010 season.
Zduriencik said all other members of manager Don Wakamatsu’s staff will return.
Bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Rick Adair, hitting coach Alan Cockrell, first-base coach Lee Tinsley, bullpen coach John Wetteland and performance coach Steve Hecht will be back.
Zduriencik says a replacement likely will come from outside the organization.