Now that the Holidays are past, the Seattle Mariners are finally beginning to make a little bit of noise with their player movement. Today we learned that 30-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has agreed to a one year deal with the club. The Oakland A's won the right to negotiate with the Rakuten star last winter, but the two sides were unable to come to a contract agreement and the A's posting bid of $19.1 million dollars was returned.
Rumors about a possible deal between the two sides started to come out over the weekend and now it appears that it is all but official. Terms of the deal -- a $1.5 million base salary with performance incentives that could push the total to around $4.9 million, as first laid out by Geoff Baker -- make Iwakuma's acquisition yet another low-risk addition to the team this offseason.
Iwakuma had pitched in Japan for 11 seasons, compiling a 107-69 Win/Loss record, a 3.25 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 1,541 innings. He won the Sawamura Award (Japan's Cy Young) and league MVP following the 2008 season in which he won a league best 21 games, posted a league best 1.87 ERA and threw a league best 201 2/3 innings. Despite having lost velocity from his fastball over the past several years from various arm ailments and mechanical adjustments, Iwakuma has fantastic control and a devastating forkball, which has led to him being a dominating ground ball pitcher. He has gone 55-31 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 7.0 SO/9, just 1.8 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in 780 2/3 IP over his last five NPB seasons.
Although he had some shoulder issues in 2011 which limited him to just 119 innings (as well as having shoulder and elbow issues in the past), Iwakuma has already taken a physical with the Mariners and everything was satisfactory. Zduriencik also said that they had him up to 93 miles-per-hour during his Arizona workouts in October, although he typically works in the 88-91 range with the pitch.
Having Iwakuma on the roster means Charlie Furbush loses any weak grip he may have had on a possible rotation spot heading into Spring Training as the Mariners will most likely now go with a group of Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Jason Vargas, Iwakuma and Blake Beavan. His presence also likely allows the M's to take it slow(er) with top prospects Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, who now are both much more likely to start 2012 in the minor leagues.
With the addition of Iwakuma, the Mariners have now added a starting pitcher, catcher John Jaso, infielder Munenori Kawasaki and left-handed reliever George Sherrill this winter, addressing four of the five things that General Manager Jack Zduriencik said were "on his list" entering this offseason.
The fifth, of course, is a power hitter. We shall see how that ends up.
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