Re-signing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will be a priority for the Mariners this offseason, new general manager Jerry Dipoto told Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.
Iwakuma, a 34-year-old client of the Wasserman Media Group, has pitched exclusively for the Mariners in his big league career since coming over from Japan in 2012. After signing an initial one-year, $1.5MM contract, he inked a two-year, $14MM extension with a $7MM club option that wound up vesting but would have been an easy call for the Mariners to exercise either way.
A strained lat muscle cost Iwakuma a bit more than two months of action this season and has limited him to 122 2/3 innings. He’s performed well in that time, however, demonstrating his typical brand of pinpoint control (1.5 BB/9 rate) and a strong ground-ball rate (50.6 percent) as well as a characteristically solid 7.6 K/9 rate.
Iwakuma will turn 35 next April, complicating his free agent stock to some extent. Age and injury status notwithstanding, Iwakuma has a strong case for a multi-year deal based on his excellent track record. He’s tallied a 3.19 ERA in 646 2/3 career innings, and his career strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates are all quite similar to his aforementioned 2015 rates.
Bringing back Iwakuma would keep the Mariners’ solid 1-2 punch of Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma intact, and the Mariners will of course be hoping for better health from both Taijuan Walker and James Paxton in 2016. Lefties Vidal Nuno and Roenis Elias also figure to be in the mix. As Bowden notes, building depth is Dipoto’s modus operandi, so the team will likely be better equipped to handle any rotation injuries that do arise in 2016.
Interest in Iwakuma should be fairly widespread, however. While he doesn’t fit into the top of the marketplace alongside David Price, Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke, Iwakuma’s stable performance and the fact that he can likely be had on a shorter-term deal should make him appealing to a large number of teams in addition to just Seattle.