The Kenji Situation
Perhaps one of the more important stories of the winter that has gotten very little coverage so far is how the teams situation with Kenji Johjima gets resolved. We’ve all watched as he’s seen his offense take a step back the last two years, and while his work throwing out runners this season has been terrific, the fact that hardly anyone on the team likes pitching to him is no secret. He’s essentially been turned into a very expensive back-up catcher, and the only reason he’s still around is the contract extension he was given last year.
He’s scheduled to be paid $8 million in each of the next two years before the deal expires. However, with Adam Moore finishing up a strong season in Tacoma and the front office’s stated enthusiasm about his abilities, along with the pitchers fondness for Rob Johnson, and the Mariners would almost certainly prefer that Johjima spends the 2010 season with another team. How that plays itself out will be interesting and important to the reshaping of the club.
There have been rumors since the contract was signed that it contained an opt-out clause after the 2009 season, which would allow Kenji to go back to Japan if he wished. Other rumors suggest that the clause may not depend on his wishes at all, believing he could be asked to use the clause to void the rest of his contract and free the M’s from a burden they don’t particularly want Geoff Baker reminds me that he covered the opt-out clause last year, and that it exists, but is limited in what it covers. Read his story for better context. Given his current levels of production, salary, and age, along with the language barrier issue, and there’s approximately a 0.0% chance that another team would trade for Johjima and give him a starting job next year. If Kenji wants to play everyday, his only chance to do that is in Japan.
However, that assumes a lot of things.
Primarily, that this opt-out clause even exists, but also that Kenji would choose regular playing time over a pretty nifty guaranteed salary the next two seasons Per Baker’s note, the opt-out can’t be used for playing time issues. The M’s got a pretty nice bargain on him the first two seasons he was here, so it’s entirely possible that he feels completely fine with being an expensive backup to finish out his career in America.
If that’s true, then Kenji is just the catching version of Carlos Silva – an overpaid old guy that the M’s don’t really want but can’t easily get rid of. And in that scenario, we’re really going to find out just how big of a magician Jack Z really is, because turning Johjima into something the M’s might be able to get some value out of will not be easy.
There’s also the possibility that this will get resolved in a way that we just won’t know the details about. Derek and I talked about this a little bit during the USSM event last month, but there’s a decent chance that Kenji ends up going back to Japan with a briefcase full of money, and while it may look like he “opted-out” of the deal, the M’s could still end up adjusting their budget to account for his stop at the ATM machine before he caught his flight. Even if Kenji does go back to Japan after the season, we can’t assume that all $8 million of his salary if off the books, and we can be pretty darn sure the M’s won’t mention how large of a going away present he got at the press conference.
Don’t bet on Johjima coming to spring training with the M’s next year. How that happens, I don’t know that anyone knows. How it plays out will be one of the more interesting stories of the winter.