11/21/2005 8:04 PM ET
Mariners sign catcher Kenji Johjima
Seven-time Gold Glover will be first Japanese catcher in Majors
Seattle Mariners executive vice president and general manager of baseball operations Bill Bavasi today announced that the Mariners have signed All-Star Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima to a three-year contract. A seven-time Gold Glove winner from 1999-2005, Johjima will be the first Japanese catcher to play in the Major Leagues.
"This was a unique opportunity for us," Bavasi said. "We had a chance to acquire offense at a premium position and we went after it aggressively. We are excited to sign Kenji, and believe that this signing is one more step in our transition. As soon as he steps on the field, he makes our Major League roster better, and that's what we needed as we headed into this offseason. It is also significant for us since this will not involve compensation during next year's amateur draft."
Johjima, 29, has a career .299 batting average with 211 home runs and 699 RBIs in 11 seasons (1,117 games) with the Pacific League's Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. He batted .309 with 24 home runs and 57 RBIs over 116 games in an injury-shortened 2005 season. Johjima broke the tibia in his left leg on Sept. 22 and missed the reminder of the campaign.
"Kenji is an exciting acquisition for the Seattle Mariners, not only on the field as a superb catcher, but also in terms of what he will bring to the Seattle community," said Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln. "I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Kenji and his family when they visited Seattle and came away from that meeting highly impressed. He approaches this opportunity as a great challenge. Having met him, I am confident he will meet this challenge and become a tremendous asset to the Mariners. Our fans are really going to enjoy watching Kenji."
A right-handed batter, Johjima became a Major League free agent on Nov. 8. He has averaged .305, 30 homers and 87 RBIs in 627 games over the past five years. Johjima has led the league in caught-stealing percentage four consecutive seasons.
Playing under manager and legendary player Sadaharu Oh, Johjima was a member of three Pacific League championship teams (1999, 2000, 2003). The Hawks won the Japanese Series in 1999 and 2003. A six-time postseason All-Star, Johjima was named to the Pacific League "Best Nine" from 1999-2001 and again from 2003-2005. He was a first-round selection by the Hawks in the 1994 draft.
A native of Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Johjima was named the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player in 2003, when he hit .330 with 34 homers and 119 RBIs over a career-high-tying 140 games. He was hit by a pitch 22 times in 2004, breaking Ichiro Suzuki's previous Pacific League mark of 18. Johjima was a member of the Bronze Medal Japanese team in the 2004 Olympics.
Johjima is currently in Japan. He will meet with local media upon his return to the United States.