M’s In On Hisashi Iwakuma
Reports out of Japan have the Mariners as the team believed to have placed the highest bid for Hisashi Iwakuma, the 29-year-old RHP who was posted by Rakuten this week. Reportedly, the Mariners bid $13 million, while Rakuten was hoping for a bid in the $16 to $17 million range. They have until next Thursday to decide whether to accept the highest bid, in which case the winning team would then have exclusive negotiating rights with Iwakuma. If they came to an agreement, they would pay their bid figure to Rakuten. If they did not come to an agreement, then they would not pay the posting fee, and he would stay in Japan for another year.
Here’s a write-up on Iwakuma from Patrick Newman, the best source of Japanese information around. The basic summary is that Iwakuma appears to be a pretty extreme groundball guy with good command of five pitches, and while he might not have a dominating strikeout pitch, he’s still considered second only to Yu Darvish among Japanese pitchers in potential to succeed in Major League Baseball. The Hiroki Kuroda comparisons are going to be common, as he had a similar profile when he came over, and he’s been nothing short of a massive success for the Dodgers.
If Iwakuma turned out to perform at a Kuroda type level, he’d be the second best free agent pitcher on the market, and a $13 million posting fee would almost certainly be a huge bargain. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on, as if the reports are true and the M’s did win the bidding, you’re probably looking at the team’s #2 starter next year. Given that the organization has traditionally paid international signing bonuses and posting fees out of a separate budget than the one that governs the Major League roster, this could be a pretty significant development, giving the team a quality pitcher while still allowing them enough money to get an impact hitter.