Dec. 1: FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets that Iwakuma’s contract comes with a $2.5MM base salary upon making the big league roster as well as a hefty $6MM worth of incentives based on games started. Heyman also notes that Iwakuma’s deal contains a separate incentives package based on potential work out of the bullpen.
Nov. 27: The Mariners announced that they’ve re-signed right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
Iwakuma, 37 in April, has spent his entire big league career with the Mariners, for whom he debuted back in 2012. Seattle bought out the 2018 club option on his contract after an injury-ruined 2017 season in which a right shoulder injury limited Iwakuma to just 31 innings. However, the veteran told reporters in Japan recently that he was weighing an offer to return to the Mariners. He’ll now head to big league camp with the M’s and try to earn a spot on the roster for what would be his seventh season in the Emerald City.
While the 2017 season wasn’t pretty for Iwakuma, he’s largely been an effective mid-rotation starter in Seattle — and quite a bit more in his best seasons. From 2012-16, Iwakuma turned in 852 2/3 innings of 3.39 ERA ball, averaging 7.4 K/9 against an outstanding 1.8 BB/9 mark while routinely turning in yearly ground-ball rates right around the 50 percent mark. His best campaign by virtually any measure came in 2013, when the then-32-year-old made his lone All-Star team and finished third in American League Cy Young voting on the heels of a 2.66 ERA over the life of 219 2/3 innings.
It’s obviously not reasonable to expect Iwakuma to return to his peak form, but even his 2016 season was a solid effort — one that the Mariners would be happy to see replicated in 2018. That year saw Iwakuma produce 199 innings of 4.12 ERA ball with averages of 6.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 against a 40.8 percent ground-ball rate.
Iwakuma won’t be guaranteed a rotation spot, as he has been in previous seasons with the Mariners, but he ought to have a legitimate chance to reclaim his place in manager Scott Servais’ starting five if he’s health come March. At present, the Mariners have James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake locked into rotation spots. Beyond that mix, however, there would appear to be two open spots. Iwakuma will join a race that includes Erasmo Ramirez, Andrew Moore, Marco Gonzales and Andrew Albers. Righties Chase De Jong, Max Povse, Rob Whalen and Seth Frankoff are all currently on the Mariners’ 40-man roster as well.