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.

10 Responses to Johjima’s departure leaves Mariners facing roster issues

  • JP:

    The big issue with Branyan is whether or not his back is healthy. A herniated disc is a major issue for a power hitter, especially one like Branyan. If the M’s aren’t 100% sure that he’s all right, they should pass on re-signing him, regardless of the possible PR backlash. Next year is still a rebuilding year for the M’s, and having a 33-year-old 1B with a bad back locked into a long-term contract is a bad idea. Mike Carp looked sharp in his cups of coffee with the M’s, and he could be the 1B for the M’s next season.

    As for Jack Wilson, the Johjima situation changes things there. The M’s thought they were saddled with Johjima’s $7.7 million salary for 2010, with either the right to exercise Wilson’s option at $8.4 million or to decline it for $600,000. Given the burden of Johjima’s salary, it looked like the team would either decline the option altogether or try to negotiate a better deal with Wilson (i.e., a 2-year deal at $10 million total.) In other words, that $7.7 million was a “sunk cost”, so to speak. However, now that Johjima has left, that $7.7 million is freed up. Since the team had already earmarked that money for salary, they could conceivably re-allocate that money toward Wilson, and make the following decision: decline his option for $600,000 or effectively exercise the option for $700,000 ($8.4 million less $7.7 million.) For a $100,000 difference, the decision to keep Wilson seems much easier, especially since it doesn’t bind Wilson to the team after 2010 (when Carlos Triunfel should be close to ready to make his MLB debut.)

    I don’t like the idea of moving Jose Lopez to 3B. One of the reasons they moved him away from SS (his original position) is his tendency to double-pump when he makes his throws. At 2B, with a shorter throw to 1B, that wasn’t so bad. On the left side of the diamond, however, that could be lethal. In addition, Lopez has the worst range of any AL 2B, and moving him to 3B means a LOT of balls would go down the LF line against the M’s; Wilson would save him in the 3B-SS hole because he has one of the best range factors of any SS in baseball. The M’s have used pitching and defense as a building block, and moving Lopez to 3B would severely weaken that. Moving him to 1B, however, would probably negate that, and the M’s could either use Matt Tuiasosopo at 2B or sign a free agent (Freddy Sanchez will be available… reuniting Sanchez and Wilson as the double-play combo could be an inspired decision.) That being said, they may want to keep 1B clear for Carp.

    As for catcher… all the M’s need to do is sign a “caddy” for Rob Johnson and Adam Moore for 2010, to get Moore ready to take the reins full-time in 2011. There are PLENTY of choices available on the free agent market this winter, none of whom will be terribly expensive (Ivan Rodriguez, Brad Ausmus, Jose Molina, Brian Schneider, possibly Yorvit Torrealba, etc.)

    Still, 3B and LF are big holes. Saunders obviously isn’t ready for the big-time yet, and Bill Hall’s bat has disappeared. We’re only paying $1.5 million of Hall’s salary next season (the Brewers are picking up the rest), but that doesn’t mean he should only play like he’s getting paid that much. His plate discipline is sorely lacking, and he’s not a good outfielder at all. His best position in the field is 3B, but can the M’s afford to carry another .200 hitter this season? I don’t think so.

    There is a sleeper 3B candidate out there in the free agent market: Troy Glaus. Remember that 5 years ago, the M’s had the choice of signing either Glaus or Adrian Beltre for 3B (they had the same choice at 1B: Richie Sexson or Carlos Delgado… they definitely made the wrong decision there.) Glaus’ health was an issue this year, but he seemed to come back strong at the end of the year. His throwing shoulder is the main concern there, but if that checks out okay, he could be a great under-the-radar signing that could add a potent power bat to the M’s lineup. When healthy, Glaus has ballpark-proof power, and he’s not an NL-only player; he came up with the Angels and also played with the Blue Jays.

    The M’s could come up with another relatively low-profile name for LF from the free agents: Garret Anderson. He’s a professional hitter, coming off of an injury-plagued season with the Braves. But he could be a good clubhouse leader, and if nothing else, an advance scout against his old Angels teammates.

    Point blank, the M’s shouldn’t break the bank this off-season for free agents; it’s one of the worst overall free agent markets in the last decade and, quite frankly, the M’s are NOT going to contend next season. 2011 is their target to make a run at the division title, and they’ll be better served to keep their financial flexibility until the market improves next winter and THEN make their move for free agents.

  • lwl:

    trying to log in

  • Mikos:

    Johjima’s departure is good news. He was a better hitter than most Mariner catchers have but did not justify the salary. And I do think the Mariners could contend next year. The Angels are playing otu their string with their current roster and should be weaker next year without Lackey et al.

  • Elliot:

    “And the Mariners will need to add a veteran catcher, too.”

    Really? The Mariners NEED to add a veteran catcher? Why? Have you forgotten we have Adam Moore and Rob Johnson?

  • Birdman Junior:

    Re-sign Bedard or sign Brandon Webb or sign Rich Harden
    Re-sign Branyan or sign Aubrey Huff
    Acquire JJ Hardy or sign Freddy Sanchez or Re-sign Beltre
    Give Tuiasosopo a look at SS
    Sign Jason Bay or start Saunders in LF

    Could be:
    C-1B-2B-3B-SS-LF-CF-RF-DH
    Moore/Johnson-Carp-Lopez-Beltre/Sanchez/Tuiasosopo-Hardy/Tuiasosopo-Saunders/Bay-Gutierrez-Ichiro-Branyan/Huff

    1-2-3-4-5
    Hernandez-Webb/Bedard/Harden-RRS-Snell-Fister/Vargas

  • dub the beachcomber:

    troy glauss appears ready to play. in his few appearances with the cards this sept, he looked ready and the arm looked adequate. if the cards had room, they would probably make a run at him. they have a good young prospect in david freeze plus they look good to re-sign de rosa. glauss should come at a very reasonable price as well. a very good catch from commenter jp.

  • L E Wesche:

    I doubt if Branyan can duplicate 2009 and Carp is ready to play. He’s an adequate fielder and a more reliable offensive contributor. Lopez needs to be in the lineup, possibly as DH since his only effective position is really 1B. Moore, Saunders and Tui are very close and probably have proved all the can in the minors. It isn’t unusual for ultimately outstanding MLB players to struggle their first year or two [Koufax, A Rod et al] and the Mariners need to exercise patience and show some confidence in their youngsters.

  • jah:

    Re-sign Beltre! Do whatever it takes!

    Let Bedard go.

    Re-sign Washburn.

    Try to get Jamie Burke back as the veteran catcher.

    At first base, Branyan was a defensive liability. Hands of cement. Carp does not hit for power, and you need power at 1st base. Bryan LaHair? Trade? Free Agent? Lopez?

    Lopez is a major defensive liability at second and would also be a huge downgrade at third base. You can’t build your team around pitching and defense and have Lopez anywhere other than 1st base or DH.

    Tui at second base

    Look for a good shortstop via trade or free agent market. If the M’s decide to stick with Jack Wilson, they need to re-negotiate his salary. He is not worth $8.4m.

  • CC Biskit:

    No doubt it is another vital offseason for my beloved Mariners. Jack Z needs at least one big trade like last season. I think as far as LF goes, we can afford to take our chances by having an open competition in Spring, no big moves needed there. Bring in Saunders, Ackley (I know he inexperienced, but he wanted a Major League contract, so let see what he has to offer in spite of it, you never know, he could be the next John Olerud), Endy Chavez, and some other youngsters.

    3B and SS are vital positions for our team this offseason. I want Adrian Beltre here next season, but I don’t know if he wants to come back. I loved the idea about seeing what the Brewers want for Hardy, I like his bat and glove. 8.4 million seems like a lot for Jack Wilson, but before cutting him loose, see if there is interest with other teams about a trade before agreeing to the option or not. You could almost think of letting Wilson’s contract go as long as it means you can get Beltre back for about the same money (I’m guessing it’ll be about 10 million per for 3-4 years)

    I liked what I saw from Carp, but don’t want to give up on Branyan either (as long as he’s healthy). Also, I like the idea of talking to Troy Glaus too, and he can play 1B as well. He’s a decent hitter with a good OBP.

    And I hope Griffey comes back for another year, but if not then (I know I’m in the minority here) why not talking to a Carlos Delgado. I know he’s old, but if healthy still very productive and from what I hear, he’s great in the clubhouse. Maybe talk to him if we can’t resign Branyan and if Carp isn’t ready.

    As far as catching is concerned, I loved Kenji, just not at that price. I like the Idea of bringing in a veteran like a Josh Bard or Ramon Hernandez to push Moore and Johnson. I want to see Adam Moore take the reigns at catcher this year, but he’s got to earn it.

    I’m not sure about Jose Lopez, I love his bat, but his defense in mediocre at best. I would love to see him embrace a move to 1B, but not sure thats going to happen. My feeling is that if Jack Z is going to make a big move this offseason, Lopez might be the casualty. He a solid bat that other teams like with some flexibility in the field that NL teams covet. He could very well be the piece that turn a good trade into a great, organization changing trade for us.

    I’ll be watching all offseason for good news on the mariners front, I hope to see some more moves in the right direction.

  • bubba la goush:

    This is what I want for our M’s next year. (No, I’m not high)
    C-Moore/Johnson
    1b-Carp/ .295; 20HR; 90 RBI
    2b-Trade Lopez; pick up Iwamura-sets up good 1-2 punch with Ichiro, plays great D; is fast; and hits for +.300 average.
    3b-Tui/ .260; 15-18 HR; 65 RBI
    SS-No Jack! Find some offense+defense here. (Use lopez in trade for Tulowitzki?)
    LF-Saunders/like his defense, lefty bat, and I think his production will jump next year say .270 ave; 18 HR; 70RBI.
    CF-Gutierrez/ .295; 25HR; 100 RBI
    RF-Duh!
    DH-Power/Ave (Lower K please, not branyan) and one who is willing to hit cleanup, not second in the order. Prefer Lefty bat.

    SP-Hernandez (If we trade him; we need a haul as good as what we gave Baltimore)
    SP-Free agent; a proven HEALTHY winner; not a bedard, sheets, etc.
    SP-RRS
    SP-Snell
    SP-Morrow

    As for the relief core, not sold on any of them. Aardsma has me worried he was a fluke-trade him while his value is high, Lowe was very shaky at times, the rest give me shivers.