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The next Ichiro?

Today, it looks like the Mariners made the first significant move of the offseason. Kenji Johjima, a 29-year-old Japanese catcher, has reportedly signed a 3 year, $16.5 million contract with the Mariners and he comes with impressive credentials, as he has won seven straight gold gloves and averaged over 30 home runs and a .300 batting average over the last five years. While the Mariners obviously feel Johjima is major-league material, other clubs were not sold on him, considering the language barrier and the fact he knows nothing about any of the hitters. Mariners' GM Bill Bavasi acknowledges the language barrier, but he also added that Kohjima only needs enough English and Spanish to talk about baseball matters with a pitcher, not enough to "split an atom."

Though there are risks in signing Kenji Johjima, I think this is a great move for the Mariners. First of all, he should be an upgrade offensively. Just look at the following numbers:


Johjima's Projected Stats*

2005 M's Catchers
AVG.270

.215
OBP.319

.249
SLG.413

.312
*Projected stats from www.lookoutlanding.com
Kenji Johjima is more than capable of hitting better than the projected statistics. Personally, I think he will. Simply put, there is absolutely NO way he does not improve the Mariners, even if his defense is horrific (which it will not be) because he is ridiculously superior to last year's hodgepodge of catching crap. Johjima would be a noticable upgrade for only a little over $5 million a year. As for the whole language barrier issue, there are plenty of Latin catchers who have succeeded despite not knowing English, so it only follows that a Japanese catcher could do the same. If the Mariners do sign Kenji Johjima, and it looks like they will, it could turn out to be the best move any team makes in the offseason. Even if the Mariners were to sign A.J. Burnett, I doubt he would improve the team as much as Johjima simply because the Mariners' catchers last year were exceptionally terrible.