Jojima Opts Out of Contract

SEATTLE (Kyodo) — Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Jojima is opting out of the final two years of his three-year, $24 million contract and will return to Japanese baseball, the club said Oct. 19.

Jojima, the only Japanese-born catcher who has played in the major leagues, has decided to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract after injuries and lack of production limited his playing time to 71 games this past season and 112 games in 2008.

“This was a very difficult decision, both professionally and personally. I feel now is the time to go home, while I still can perform at a very high level. Playing close to family and friends was a major factor,” said the 33-year-old.

Jojima batted .268 during his four seasons with the Mariners, hitting 48 home runs and driving in 198 runs in 462 games.

Jojima 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.

“We respect his decision to return home,” Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Joh has been a terrific teammate and a great competitor. His work ethic, production and desire to win made him a positive role model.”

During his 11-year career in Japan, Jojima batted .299 with 211 home runs and 699 RBIs in 1,117 games. He won seven consecutive Gold Gloves through 2005.

It is the second time in the past five years the Mariners have lost a Japanese-born player with time remaining on an existing contract. Kazuhiro Sasaki, the franchise’s all-time leader in saves, did the same thing prior to the 2004 season.

“It’s sad we won’t have him in our clubhouse next season. In the past two years, I found him in tears of frustration many times, so I imagine he was fighting with mixed emotions,” said Ichiro Suzuki, who came to train at Safeco Field.

“I’m sure it was a tough decision for him, but I believe he’ll move forward. In my mind, he’ll be my teammate forever,” the star outfielder said.

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