Kenji Johjima said today in Japan that he left the Seattle Mariners because his playing time had been cut so severely.
Johjima held a conference call with Japanese-speaking reporters – he declined a similar opportunity with English-speaking reporters – for the first time since the Mariners announced Monday that he was using an opt-out clause to leave the team with two years and $16 million remaining on his contract.
“After I came back to Japan (following the Mariners’ season), I talked to my wife and family, then reached my decision,” Johjima said. “I told them what exactly I wanted.
“I concluded that I would like to play every day. I would like to play for a team which really wants me, needs me. That’s my straight answer.”
It’s also a different reason from the one Johjima gave in a statement released Monday by the M’s.
“I feel now is the time to go home while I still can perform at a very high level,” he said in the statement. “Playing close to family and friends was a major factor.”
But not the major factor.
As long ago as last year, not long after he had signed a three-year, $24 million extension with the Mariners on April 25, 2008, Johjima voiced his displeasure about his dwindling playing time to a teammate.
“I talked to him about it during batting practice one day last year. We were in the outfield at Shea (Stadium),” relief pitcher Mark Lowe said. “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 talk occurred during the Mariners’ interleague series against the New York Mets, only two months after he had signed the three-year extension.
Johjima had struggled to keep his batting average above .200 and the Mariners had called up catching prospect Jeff Clement and given him the most starts in late June.