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Kenji Homeward Bound

Kenji JohjimaSurprise! The Mariners lost a catcher today. Kenji Johjima has opted out of his contract, opting to finish his career in Japan. We've seen this before, back when Kazuhiro Sasaki did the same thing. Kenji is much more noteworthy though. He leaves $16 million on the table in a deal that was largely maligned, and has now vanished.

I'm not paying much attention to the official response from the M's front office. There are the usual thank yous and appreciation towards Joh's contributions that come with a move like this. They are deserved. Kenji stepped into a black hole, and was a contributor for two years. Injuries certainly hampered him this year too. He always gave the Mariners everything he had on the field, and he proved to many nay-sayers that a Japanese catcher can play in the big leagues. Maybe I'd feel differently about Kenji if I had worked with him (like all the pitchers that grumble about him), but I have no bad feelings towards the guy. The Mariners were better with him the past four years, and I hope he gets a hero's welcome upon his return to Japan.

All that said, I'm ecstatic for the Mariners too. Kenji's extension was the worst deal of the Bavasi era, and Kenji did the team a huge favor by opting out. In my eyes, Adam Moore and Rob Johnson were clearly the tandem for 2010, leaving an $8 million catcher in AAA for a couple years. That's not a good deal for the Mariners, and obviously not what Kenji had in mind when he signed the extension. It would have been a bad situation for everyone.

Jack Zduriencik is right, the M's catching depth took a hit today. Kenji had the experience, and though his skillset wasn't worth $8 million at this point, it's hard to find a catcher that consistently makes contact and throws out 50% of baserunners. Nobody available can replace him. However, we are talking about finding a third string catcher. There are guys like Eliezer Alfonzo, Kevin Cash, and Rob Bowen available, all backstops with MLB experience that should come at the league minimum. Internally, Jamie Burke and Guillermo Quiroz are still around too. That's only what a cursory search (i.e., thinking of names off the top of my head) got me. Give this front office a little time to think about it, and there is a good chance they come up with some other names.

We've seen what this front office can turn money into. Last year they signed Russell Branyan, Mike Sweeney, and Ken Griffey Jr. for about $8 million. This organization is better with the Kenji contract money back in the front office's hands. Sure, the organizational catching depth is weaker, but the team will find someone who can handle the AAA pitching staff, and short stints in the majors from time to time. Happy trails to Kenji, and happier days are ahead for the Mariners.