Q: Speaking of control, what about the extension of Kenji Johjima's contract? From a purely baseball perspective, three years at $24 million made no sense, based on a catcher's age (32) alone. Was this solely the call of Hiroshi Yamauchi?
A: I've read a lot about this "mystery owner in Kyoto" who interferes with respect to Japanese players. Let me set the record straight. Mr. Yamauchi has been a very passive, patient majority owner of the Mariners. But for him, we wouldn't be talking here today because the Mariners would be somewhere else.
He has involved himself with three Japanese players -- Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji. Mr. Yamauchi suggested we consider signing Sasaki as a free agent. Nobody in our baseball operations, including Gillick and Piniella, thought it was a good idea. All of them resisted. We signed him, and he was our closer in 2000 and 2001. By any measure, he had a very successful run.
The second time Mr. Yamauchi "interfered," it was with Ichiro. There's no question we would have never signed Ichiro except for Yamauchi. Gillick and Piniella and all our baseball people were against it. They were aghast when we put $13.1 million (posting fee) on the table to sign him. They were convinced Ichiro would fail.
Far as I can tell, Mr. Yamauchi was batting 1.000. As far as Johjima, Mr. Yamauchi wants him to finish his career as a Mariner. Johjima's agent approached Chuck at the beginning of the season. That extension was put together. I can assure you that Bill did not think that was a good idea. But Johjima did pretty well here his first two years, both offensively and defensively. This year he had a miserable season. He has yet to perform under the new contract. There's no way to tell right now whether he will be good, bad or indifferent. But my money is on Yamauchi because he's got a pretty good batting average.
Those are the three times in 17 seasons that the majority owner of the Mariners has "interfered." I would put his record up against any MLB owner, all of whom interfere to some extent. I think he has been remarkably prescient in the players he has focused on.
Q: The contract extensions that were given seemed above market for their talents. There is a belief Yamauchi is willing to overpay for "favored sons" regardless of consequence to the payroll and team morale. True?
A: He's Japanese, and his focus is on Japanese players........................................
Q: Does Yamauchi feel an urgency to win immediately every year for Ichiro's sake, meaning an emphasis on the expensive but quick fix of veteran free agents as opposed to a slower rebuild with younger players?
A: No. He's never communicated anything like that to me. In my 17 years as his representative, he's never gotten into a discussion like that. He's told me repeatedly: "I leave this in your hands."
Q: Will the new GM be able to trade Ichiro or Johjima if it's in the club's best interests?
A: Certainly I'm willing to listen to anything. But as a practical matter, I have a pretty good idea of Mr. Yamauchi's view of these Japanese players. In the case of Ichiro, what we have enjoyed from Ichiro the last eight years in terms of performance means someone would have to have their head screwed on wrong to decide the best way to fix the Mariners was to get rid of their franchise player.
That doesn't make sense, just like Derek Jeter isn't going anywhere under the direction of (Yankees GM) Brian Cashman without taking it to the Steinbrenners. I think it's the same for Johjima.