From Kirby Arnold this afternoon, we get this bit about Johjima through Mark Lowe:
"I talked to [Kenji] last year about it during batting practice one day," Lowe said. "We were in the outfield at Shea. 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.' "
Two years ago, the Jason Varitek and Dioner Navarro.played a three-game set in New York between June 23rd and June 25th. Prior to that series, the M's had played 75 games, of which Kenji started 56 - 54 of them behind the plate. At that point he was on a pace to start about 120 games and appear in 130, putting him in the company of other regulars like
Since that series, the Mariners have played 249 games, of which Kenji started 115. Now, granted, he had some injury trouble in 2009 that kept him off the field and skews that number, but it was evident to anyone paying attention that his role was being reduced, due to both his ineffectiveness and the emergence of whatever skill it is that Rob Johnson's supposed to provide. And for a guy like Kenji, who's barely content starting five or six times a week, you have to imagine that that sort of cutback didn't sit very well. Well, I mean, now it's obvious that it didn't sit very well, so we don't have to imagine anything. But still, it's somewhat remarkable to note how calm and composed and professional Kenji remained over the past year and a half despite having his playing time diminished and his competence as a receiver frequently called into question. Deep inside, he must've been pissed. Remember that, according to Alan Nero, Kenji thinks he's still on top of his game.
Faced with the situation that Kenji faced at the end of the year, a lot of people would've stuck around for the money. Some of them would've kept quiet. Others would've bitched. Few of them would've bailed, and though it's not like many players have the sort of guaranteed playing time overseas that Kenji does, his motives here seem unusually genuine - he just wants to play, and the Mariners didn't have room. So he left a lot of money on the table in the name of greater personal satisfaction. I can understand being cynical and insisting that there must've been some sort of buyout, but me, I don't see it. This particular situation strikes me as being exceptional. Kenji's not poor. He knows there'll be money waiting for him in Japan. And, with the money, there'll be a great deal more playing time. We all make some sacrifices in order to be a little happier. I think Kenji just made a bigger one than most of us get the opportunity to make.
Realistically, this is probably about as pleasant a break-up as a sports fan gets to face. Kenji didn't overstay his welcome. He didn't block any youth, he didn't handcuff the front office or coaching staff, and he never caused a ruckus. By the same token, he was past his peak, his contract didn't project well at all, and the organization's top catching prospect is knocking on the door. So he left, and to top it all off, he didn't leave for another team or another rival; he left to go home, overseas, because he just wants to play, and play close to his family. There's no bitterness, and there's no sadness - there's just appreciation, for what Kenji's done, what Kenji did, and who Kenji is.
That's neat. People don't often get to through through an exit like this one. I wish Kenji all the best going forward, and unlike in previous cases with departing Mariners, this time I mean it unconditionally. Kenji was a good player and an excellent professional with Seattle, and to make the sacrifice he made for the reasons we've seen stated - he deserves for this to be the best decision he's ever made.