Johjima’s departure leaves Mariners facing roster issues
John Hickey was the Mariners beat reporter for the Seattle P-I:
At one level, the Mariners found an unexpected $15.8 million in their pockets when catcher Kenji Johjima opted to head back home to Japan, turning his back on the final two years of his contract – $7.7 million next season and $8.1 million in 2011.
At another level, however, Johjima has put the Mariners in a real hole. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik already was facing tough decisions at first base, third base, shortstop, left field and in both the rotation and the bullpen.
Zduriencik didn’t really need one more hole to fill looking toward putting together the Mariner team that will meet in February in Peoria, Ariz., for spring training. His manager, Don Wakamatsu, says the job ahead may be every bit as difficult as the one Zduriencik faced last fall when he took over a team coming off a dismal 101-loss season.
“It’s like now the work starts all over again,” Wakamatsu said. “Realistically, we have two returners (offensively), maybe three with (Jose) Lopez. We have to rebuild the whole damn thing all over again.
“So this winter is going to be interesting, even though I’m still going through withdrawal from last season.”
The regulars Seattle can count on without question for 2010 are center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Lopez, like the other two, is under contract, but there is a question about where to play him. He has been at first base some the past two seasons, and the club must consider if he could be a replacement for Adrian Beltre if the third baseman isn’t with Seattle in 2010.
Beltre’s five-year, $64 million contract is up. And although he liked playing for Seattle more than ever in 2009, he and his family still live not far from Dodger Stadium, where he played from 1998 to 2004. The Dodgers and the Angels both are likely to come calling. The Dodgers have struggled with Casey Blake at third in the National League playoffs, and the Angels are likely to lose their third baseman, Chone Figgins, in free agency. They won’t be alone, either, and with Scott Boras as his agent, two-time Gold Glove winner Beltre should cash in handsomely whether he stays in Seattle or leaves.
There aren’t a host of good options for Zduriencik in free agency at third base. Of the current list of free-agent third basemen, Beltre is probably the best defender, and only two are younger.
If he goes, Lopez could be moved to third, but that would open a hole at second base, so a position would still have to be filled. Maybe Bill Hall could take over at second (or third), but his offensive numbers have fallen in recent years.
The Mariners hope they won’t need a first baseman, but they won’t know for a while. Their 2009 gamble on Russell Branyan paid off in 31 homers, even though Branyan had back troubles that kept him sidelined for the last month of the season. Seattle badly needs to have his bat – or a bat very much like his back in 2010, but they can’t be sure he’ll be back until he says yes.
At shortstop, the Mariners didn’t get much production from the oft-injured Jack Wilson. He wants to be back in Seattle after years mired in the loss column in Pittsburgh, but it’s going to be even money if the Mariners opt to bring him back for his $8.4 million option.
Including Johjima and assuming that Beltre and lefty pitcher Erik Bedard don’t return, the Mariners have shed $50.3 million from the salaries they dished out last year. There is plenty of money for Zduriencik to play the free-agency game if he wants to. But Beltre and Bedard – and as a long shot, maybe even Jarrod Washburn, long since traded to the Tigers – could be back, and if so, that money won’t go as far as one might think.
And the Mariners will need to add a veteran catcher, too.
So there are at least as many decisions for the Mariners to make this offseason as last – and those don’t even include the pitching issues, which are subjects for another day.
Which makes this offseason one worth watching.
The PostGlobe relies on your donations. Please support this writer’s work by going to our donate page. Please note how you’d like your donation used.