M’s Close To Deal With Hisashi Iwakuma

Dave · January 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Over the last week or so, various reports have been circling that the Mariners were closing in on a deal with Japanese RHP Hisashi Iwakuma. Today, we get the best confirmation of those reports, in the form of a report from Sponichi (in Japanese, but helpfully translated by Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker) where Iwakuma is quoted as saying:

“We’ve received terms from a number of clubs, but considering where I’m needed and an environment my family can live in, at present we’re closest to a contract with the Mariners,” Iwakuma said.

Generally, you don’t say something like this publicly unless you’re pretty darn close to a deal with the team, so we can comfortably guess that the two are pretty far along in negotiations. It doesn’t appear to be a done deal, but it also seems fairly likely that the M’s are going to end up with Iwakuma.

We’ve talked about the team’s need for another starting pitcher (or two) all off-season, and Iwakuma checks most of the boxes of things the team was looking for – a strike-throwing innings eater who could fill in at the back of the rotation without costing an arm and a leg. A year ago, Iwakuma seemed to be potentially a lot more than that, as the A’s bid $19 million to win his rights via the posting process, but they never came to terms with him on a contract, he stayed in Japan, and he took a step back in scout’s eyes, mostly related to a drop in velocity. His surface numbers still look good, but it’s important to keep in mind that Japan played with a new ball in 2011, and offense declined precipitously, so his performance relative to league average wasn’t as good as it had been in prior years.

As a guy who sits in the high-80s and didn’t miss a lot of bats in Japan, he profiles as a back-end starter, but there’s a lot of uncertainty with pitchers coming over from Japan. Hiroki Kuroda wasn’t hyped as anything particularly special and also posted pedestrian strikeout rates in Japan, but he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball since arriving in the U.S. While people focus on the high profile failures like Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu, the fact is that Japanese pitchers have performed pretty well in MLB, and there’s certainly a chance that Iwakuma performs better than his profile might suggest. There’s also the chance that his velocity keeps deteriorating and he gets lit up like a Christmas tree. There’s just a lot of variance here, and trying to figure out exactly what to expect isn’t easy.

Still, it sounds like he’s not going to be overly expensive and probably isn’t going to require more than a two year commitment, as Japanese players often give the M’s a bit of a discount due to the positive attributes it holds in terms of community and travel. I don’t really know exactly what to expect from Iwakuma, but getting a potentially solid starting pitcher at what is probably not a super high cost can’t be considered a bad thing.


19 Responses to “M’s Close To Deal With Hisashi Iwakuma”

  1. Mariners35 on January 3rd, 2012 5:20 pm

    So, assuming this is finalized and assuming no surprises in spring training, he takes Fister’s place in the rotation?

    I.e. the rotation starts the season as Felix-Pineda-Vargas-Iwakuma, and the 5th man is the winner of Paxton/Hultzen/whoever looks best from spring training?

  2. Dave on January 3rd, 2012 5:26 pm

    The Mariners can talk all they want about Hultzen/Paxton/Ramirez “getting a look” in spring training, but the odds of any of them making the club on Opening Day are extremely long. Hultzen has never pitched in a minor league game, Paxton has seven starts above low-A ball, and Ramirez wasn’t even very good in the minors last year. They all need more time in the minors.

    The #5 spot will probably be a fight between Beaven and Furbush, though I could still see the team bringing in a guy like Jamie Moyer to push them for the spot as well.

  3. orin44 on January 3rd, 2012 5:52 pm

    I like the rotation outlook with Hernandez, Pineda, Iwakuma, Vargas and Beavan. Furbush will more than likeley come out of the bullpen as I liked what I saw from Beavan last year. Let Hultzen and Paxton develop and maybe near the trade deadline, send Vargas packing for more prospects.

    Now lets put a full court press on Prince Fielder, maybe getting Griffey to visit Prince and convince him to sign here. I’m also still wondering why Seattle didn’t try to trade for Carlos Quentin, another power bat who the Padres got for nothing.

  4. Dave on January 3rd, 2012 5:54 pm

    And that is why I hate this off-season.

  5. awakeling on January 3rd, 2012 6:14 pm


    …and thanks for the post, Dave. I’m happy to see the Ms making some reasonable moves.

  6. just a fan on January 3rd, 2012 6:20 pm

    Two questions:

    First, why did Japan introduce a baseball that depressed run scoring? Second, is it the same ball the Mariners have been using the past two years?

    As far as the other rotation spot, isn’t it Beavan or Furbush, with mostly just Hultzen getting the opportunity in spring to blow the club away and take the spot? I would give equal chances to each of the three.

    I think you’re right about Paxton and Ramirez.

  7. Westside guy on January 3rd, 2012 7:36 pm

    I see several things wrong with the second half of comment #3, but responding would likely be pointless – however, I would like to know when the next JEFF FRANCIS WATCH 2012 will be posted!

    Iwakuma at the right price makes a lot of sense, like a lot of moves do…

  8. BackRub on January 3rd, 2012 8:53 pm

    Great response to that comment, Dave!

    Before you pointed out that Kuroda didn’t have high strikeouts numbers in Japan, I couldn’t have seen Iwakuma as much more than an average starter. Kuroda does have better velocity, but the M’s would likely be getting good value if Iwakuma’s numbers translate close to as well as Kuroda’s did. That said, there is a lot of uncertain in projecting numbers as you mentioned. A history of injuries and his age also add to the risk. All factors consider, I’d be happy if the M’s gave him no more than 1yr/5million.

  9. TomC on January 3rd, 2012 9:09 pm

    Iwakuma at the right price makes a lot of sense, like a lot of moves do…

    Isn’t that the rub? Including the ongoing clamor for a certain big-boned potential DH?

    If the price is right pull the trigger. Only we don’t know what the price is for many of these guys, especially the big-boned potential DH.

    Iwakuma looks like a worthwhile gamble at $4-5 million per year for a max of 2 years, a great bargain at $2-3 million, and a bad signing at $9-10 Million.

    Now, about finding some Japanese position players …

  10. Chipanese on January 3rd, 2012 9:46 pm

    It’s important to note that Iwakuma translates to “rock bear”. I think…

  11. Valenica on January 3rd, 2012 10:39 pm

    If Furbush doesn’t make it out of ST I would like to see him back in AAA to be stretched out as a starter. He has legit stuff and good control, he just doesn’t have the command against rightys to make it work at the MLB level. If he can get that ironed out in AAA he could be a legit SP2-4.

    I know everyone pencils in Hultzen/Paxton to come in around June/July, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they stay down there the whole season and come up next year.

  12. MrZDevotee on January 3rd, 2012 10:40 pm

    From what I had read when rumors first emerged (via a translated site too) Iwakuma was also hurt early last year (shoulder), and pitched better the further he got into the season after recovering.

    From what I can tell, he’s basically the Japanese version of what Hultzen was in college (as far as “stuff”). Decent fastball, which earlier in his career hit the mid-90s, until he revamped his pitching and turned to other pitches as his “out” pitch (mostly a 2-seamer). He’s a ground ball guy, but still averages roughly 7 K’s per 9 innings.

    He also was picked (drum roll, please…) over Yu Darvish to start the final game of the World Baseball Championships for Japan in 2009, and had the lowest ERA amongst starters in that tourney.

    I like just about everything I read about him, as far as penciling out to be a mid-to-end rotation guy. And I liked reading about him much more than Boston fans liked reading today:

    “Red Sox sign Carlos Silva to minor-league deal”

    (The new Boston GM is off to a shaky start, it appears *laugh*)

  13. greentunic on January 3rd, 2012 10:59 pm

    Does anyone know how big this guy is in Japan? Will he bring (or keep) any non-negligible measure of Japanese fanbase?

    I’m excited though!

  14. KaminaAyato on January 3rd, 2012 11:42 pm

    To answer your question greentunic, Iwakuma has been a really solid starter…

    …behind the face of the franchise Tanaka Masahiro (who was also in the 2009 WBC).

    It’s not to say that Iwakuma isn’t a great pitcher, as MrZDevotee said, he did start the final game – not an assignment taken lightly.

    But during the fledgling years of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, they grabbed their franchise player after Tanaka finished runner-up at Koshien to Saitou Yuuki (drafted by Nippon Ham last year and now wearing the ace #18 effectively replacing Darvish as their ace).

    Iwakuma certainly found his place though in Sendai, and it may help that Kleenex Stadium Miyagi has large dimensions (333-384-400-384-333) and is a couple of miles from the Pacific coast.

    If Iwakuma becomes another Kuroda, I would be certainly happy. Kuroda I think has been overlooked when people talk about Japanese pitchers probably because he’s not a power pitcher that a Matsuzaka was touted to be.

  15. sexymarinersfan on January 4th, 2012 12:25 am

    KaminaAyato! I love your enthusiasm. Would be very happy to hear that we picked up Iwakuma.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Smoak, Carp, and Casper all hit over 20 HR’s next year, and maybe even Ackley too if not while hitting over .300.

  16. vertigoman on January 4th, 2012 3:37 am

    Blowers and Simms making Tom Selleck references every five
    Days…..maybe we need to carefully consider all the ramifications of such a deal.

  17. IM on January 4th, 2012 3:56 am

    In response to Just a Fan

    I don’t think they expected for the new Japanese League ball to cause such an extreme nosedive in offense. Prior to the new ball the home teams supplied the balls and used different manufacturers (similar to NCAA basketball). They wanted to go to a standard ball, and decided to use one similar to what is used in international tournaments and MLB. The result was depressed power numbers and run scoring.
    So, yes, it is the same balls that the M’s have been using, but they would have to go to Japan to have a competitive offense.
    Would be excited to get Iwakuma, figured he was out of our price range.

  18. KiWiNiNjA on January 5th, 2012 3:00 am

    It’s important to note that Iwakuma translates to “rock bear”. I think…

    ‘Kuma’ does mean bear in Japanese, but the ‘kuma’ in Iwakuma is actually not the character for bear.

    Iwakuma translates as “rock corner”, unfortunately.

  19. Plim on January 8th, 2012 4:29 pm

    If he was another Kuroda that would be nails… Here’s to hoping. Meanwhile the Angels keep showing their moves won’t handcuff them. Howard Kendrick signs a club friendly deal for the next 4 years. Supposedly Aybar is next and this opens the door for them to try to lock up Haren or Santana next season. I hate their TV deal.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.