Jojimi (above) arrived in Los Angeles yesterday, according to a person familiar with the situation, and he soon will begin exploring major-league teams and cities that interest him.
The Mets, who scouted him extensively in Japan this past season, will be on his tour, although a visit has not yet been scheduled.
“When you are after a free agent like him, I’m pretty sure that if we are going to make a decision to sign him, there’s no doubt I definitely want to sit down and talk with him myself and be able to talk to him,” Mets GM Omar Minaya said yesterday at the general managers’ meetings. “If he is going to do a tour, we’ll probably be sitting down with him and visiting with him.”
With Mike Piazza almost certainly headed to the American League, the Mets need a first-string catcher, and the free-agent market offers a few options. In addition to Jojima, who played for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the Angels’ Bengie Molina and the Padres’ Ramon Hernandez are available. Along with the Mets, Angels and Padres, the Mariners and Astros will be looking for catchers.
Jojima also intends to visit with the Mariners and Angels. He presents a great deal of intrigue within the baseball industry, a final frontier for Japanese players looking to succeed at the major-league level. For nowhere, of course, is communication more important than at the position of catcher.
Jojima, thought to be strong defensively and offensively, has been taking English lessons in the last year in preparation for this jump. “We are talking about that,” Minaya said of the unique communication issue. “That is something that’s going to weigh into our decision of signing him or not.”
Milwaukee’s Lyle Overbay seems a logical trade target, and the Mets also will consider signing 47-year-old free agent Julio Franco, a righthanded hitter, to platoon with impressive rookie Mike Jacobs. At second base, free agent Rafael Furcal is a long shot to move over from shortstop, given that the Braves want him back and the Chicago Cubs also will make a run.