SEATTLE – Kenji Johjima said Wednesday he was “profoundly grateful” to the Seattle Mariners for his four years with the club, but admitted the frustration of limited playing time over the past two seasons was a factor in him opting out of the final two years of his three-year, $24 million contract to return to Japan.
“These past two years have been frustrating and I felt like I had to make this decision now,” Johjima said in a telephone interview.
“I am profoundly grateful to the Mariners for making me the first Japanese-born catcher (in the major leagues). I have played in a wonderful baseball environment for four years,” added the 33-year-old.
“I was blessed with great staff around me and have learned a lot from playing with Ichiro-san (Suzuki). Ichiro-san is the first person outside family who I told about my decision to leave. He has been like an older brother.”
Hanshin Tigers owner Shinya Sakai has said the Central League club will pursue Johjima while former Softbank Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh says the struggling Pacific League club should bring Johjima back.
“I want to join a team that will give a player starved of games the chance to go wild,” said Johjima.
Johjima batted .268 during his four seasons with the Mariners, hitting 48 home runs and driving in 198 runs in 462 games.
He made his major league debut on April 3, 2006, and hit home runs in the first two games of the year. He was a regular starter in his first two seasons in the big leagues.
During his 11-year career in Japan with the Hawks, Johjima batted .299 with 211 home runs and 699 RBIs in 1,117 games. He won seven consecutive Golden Gloves through 2005.