Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma quietly surpassed 162 innings last week in a start against the Yankees, meaning he has now crossed the minimum innings threshold for his 2017 club option to vest at $14MM. However, MLBTR has learned that Iwakuma’s contract also stipulates that he must finish the season without incurring a specific injury, so while he’s now likely to see his option vest, the 2017 salary is not quite guaranteed just yet.
The specific nature of the injury that Iwakuma must avoid remains unknown, though concerns about his health submarined what would’ve been a three-year, $45MM contract with the Dodgers this past offseason. (He instead re-signed in Seattle on a one-year, $12MM deal with a pair of options for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.) The 35-year-old has avoided the disabled list entirely this season, however, so he’s certainly in the clear at the moment. In fact, not only has Iwakuma avoided the disabled list, he’s been far and away the healthiest member of the Seattle rotation. No other Mariners starter is within 40 innings of Iwakuma’s 163 frames, as each of Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Nate Karns has spent time on the disabled list. In his 163 innings, Iwakuma has pitched to a solid 3.81 ERA, though a number of his secondary statistics have trended in the wrong direction, including his strikeout rate (6.5 K/9), walk rate (2.0 BB/9), ground-ball rate (39.8 percent) and average fastball velocity (87.8 mph).
Iwakuma’s innings count for the remainder of the season is worth keeping an eye on as well, as his volume of innings in 2016 could impact his contract status for 2018. Assuming his 2017 option ends up vesting, Iwakuma’s 2018 option will vest at $15MM if he is able to throw a combined 324 innings between 2016-17. As it stands, he needs 161 innings next year to lock in that $15MM payday in 2018, though every inning he tosses in the final stages of the 2016 season will bring him a small step closer to that goal.
Iwakuma’s contract also contains plenty of incentives for the 2016 season, and he’s already begun reaching them. He took home $500K for reaching the 150-inning mark and is owed an additional $500K for every 10th inning he pitches after that mark, up to 190 innings. In other words, he’s already earned $1MM worth of incentives and could push that up to a total of $2.5MM if he throws another 27 innings, which looks quite likely. Those incentives will not be a part of his contract in 2017-18 if those options vest (though they would be in the event that his options fail to vest, and the club exercises the option anyway).