Kenji Johjima Rumors

Mariners Rumors: Johjima, Washburn, Ibanez

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has all sorts of good Mariners info today.

  • Kenji Johjima‘s three-year, $24MM extension was mandated by Japanese ownership.  Johjima has an opt-out clause after the ’09 season, but only in the event of a serious family issue.  The extension looks like a sunk cost for Seattle before it even begins.
  • Backup catcher Jamie Burke is a free agent after the season.  He would like to return but needs to discuss playing time with the Ms.
  • The Mariners’ direction remains unclear – is 2009 a rebuilding year?  If so, why didn’t they swap Jarrod Washburn and his contract for a young Twins pitcher? Even if ’09 isn’t a rebuilding year that would’ve made sense.
  • The Mariners still have interest in re-signing Raul Ibanez.  He may prefer to sign with a contender, leaving the Mariners with even less power.
  • Baker believes that with Erik Bedard‘s injury (and possible non-tender), the team should focus on contending around 2011.  After the ’11 season, Felix Hernandez will reach free agency.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Teixeira, Liriano, Garcia, Willingham

Ken Rosenthal has a new hot stove article up.

  • Rosenthal leads with some Mark Teixeira-Angels speculation, but admits the Braves aren’t considering trading him and the Angels are content with their team.  The Halos’ .706 team OPS ranks 12th in the AL; something should be done.
  • All kinds of Mariners turmoil.  They could look to acquire a center fielder given the move back to right for Ichiro.  Releases of Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro could be on the agenda.  And chemistry problems abound, with Ichiro and Kenji Johjima at the center.
  • The Ms might consider Chris Antonetti and David Forst for the GM job, but both could choose to wait for the position to open up on their current teams.  Antonetti seems likely to stay put, based on his comments and actions.
  • Adam Dunn likes the Reds’ future and wants to stay.
  • If the Twins keep Francisco Liriano in the minors a bit longer, he will lose his shot at becoming a Super Two player.
  • Past reports have named the Mets, Red Sox, Braves, Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Indians, Mariners, and Tigers as clubs interested in Freddy Garcia.  Rosenthal adds the Rays to the mix.
  • On Sunday, Peter Gammons said the Red Sox "might look at a count worker like the Marlins’ Josh Willingham" if David Ortiz needs surgery.  Rosenthal agrees that the Sox "indeed might be interested" but believes the Marlins want to hang on to him (even though he reaches arbitration after this season).
  • The Cardinals "made a quick inquiry" on Michael Barrett but backed off when Yadier Molina’s injury turned out to be day-to-day.

Kenji Johjima Signs Extension

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Mariners will give catcher Kenji Johjima a three-year extension.  That’d keep him with the team through 2011, his age 35 season.   It’s worth three years and $24MM – no kind of discount.

I didn’t see this coming; I thought the Ms would hand catching duties over to Jeff Clement in ’09 despite questionable defense.  Instead, they’ll apparently use him as a DH/1B or trade him.  He’s hitting .375/.500/.688  in 19 Triple A games.

Here’s a look at the remaining free agent catchers after this season.  Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek head the class.

Mariners May Lock Up Several Players

I noticed a John Hickey article from three days ago that hasn’t been mentioned here at MLBTR.  Hickey notes that the Mariners like to sign players to extensions during spring if possible.  He assesses the chances of extensions for Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Kenji Johjima, Raul Ibanez, and Richie Sexson in the article.

Johjima, Ibanez, and Sexson are all set to reach free agency after the ’08 season.  Johjima seems the most likely to stay, though prospect Jeff Clement may be close to big league ready.  Sexson is as good as gone, while the decision on Ibanez will likely hinge on ’08.  I’m not sure how Jose Vidro‘s vesting option for ’09 works; Ibanez may be best served filling his DH spot.

Hickey expects to see Felix locked up before the season begins.  A deal would buy out his three arbitration years (2009-11), at least.  The Ms could also incorporate the ’08 season into the contract.  The Angels bought out John Lackey‘s three arb years for $17MM, but that was two years ago.  Chris Young‘s deal covered his final four years of team control for $14.5MM; that was signed a year ago.  Matt Cain‘s contract may also be a comparable.

Hickey does see Bedard getting an extension; he can become a free agent after the ’09 season.  Bedard recently signed at $7MM for ’08.  His deal could be massive, in the $18-19MM per year range.

Johjima In, Hargrove Out?

At this point, it’s a widely held belief that Kenji Johjima will be the starting catcher for the Mariners in 2006.  Recently, I had an informative email exchange with a master of Japanese baseball and its players, Gary Garland.  Gary runs and has a much deeper knowledge of cultural factors that might come into play with Johjima and Ichiro than any American sportswriter. 

Among other things, Garland implies that Mike Hargrove could be fired after the 2006 season or earlier if he continues to offend his Japanese stars.  Here are some excerpts of the email.

On the clash with Hargrove:

Given Johjima’s strong personality and the wrangling going on now between Ichiro and the M’s management, if Johjima and Ichiro don’t like what they see this coming season, I think Hargrove is getting the elbow. A few writers have said that there may be cultural reasons for what Ichiro has said and they are right, but unfortunately, they have little idea what those are. I do and I think it started back when Hargrove managed a team of MLB all stars that played in Japan and said that Ichiro would have trouble making an MLB team as a fifth outfielder.  I believe that Ichiro feels that Hargrove not only insulted him, but also all Japanese baseball players.

On Johjima’s style and philosophy as a catcher:

Johjima is known for taking pitchers aside and challenging their manhood if he believes that they aren’t being aggressive enough on the mound.  Johjima feels how his pitchers do reflects on how his ability to call a game is judged. To American players, they might resent Kenji’s forthrightness and his willingness to tell veteran pitchers they aren’t making the grade.

Thanks to Gary for the inside look at Kenji Johjima and the Mariners.  One thought on Johjima’s challenging style: the dynamic between Johjima and the 20 year-old Felix Hernandez should be particularly engaging.