Mariners' Johjima Going Back to Japan

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SEATTLE (AP) -- The Mariners' Kenji Johjima opted out of the final two years of his contract, allowing him to sign with a Japanese team.

In April 2008, Seattle had signed the 33-year-old catcher to a $24 million, three-year extension covering 2009-11. He gave up salaries of $7.7 million next year and $8.1 million in 2011.

His deal gave him the right to end it by Nov. 15 for the purpose of finishing his career in Japan.

"After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan," Johjima said in a statement Monday. "I have had a wonderful experience competing at the Major League level. The last four years have been extraordinary, with great teammates and great coaches. I will always be indebted to the Mariners organization for giving me the opportunity to follow my dream. 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."

When he wasn't injured this year, Johjima lost playing time to rookie Rob Johnson. The Mariners favored Johnson's handling of the pitching staff over Johjima's offense.

Seattle also has 25-year-Adam Moore, who made his major league debut Sept. 17 and appeared in six games.

Johjima signed with the Mariners in 2005 after playing 11 seasons with Fukuoka of Japan's Pacific League. He was the first Japanese-born catcher to play in the majors.

Johjima hit .268 in his four seasons with Seattle, including 84 doubles, 48 homers and 198 RBIs in 462 games. Johjima holds the AL record for hits by a rookie catcher (147 in 2006). His 18 homers in his first season tied the Mariners club mark for most by a catcher.

Johjima slumped to .227 as part of Seattle's 101-loss collapse in 2008, and hit just .247 in 71 games this year.

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