The Mariners released right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma from the minor league contract he signed over the winter and immediately re-signed him to a new one, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. The club made the move to avoid paying Iwakuma, an Article XX(B) free agent, a $100K retention bonus. As was the case with his previous pact, Iwakuma’s new deal comes with a $2.5MM salary if he makes the majors and a chance at $6MM in incentives.
The 36-year-old Iwakuma has spent his entire major league career with the Mariners since leaving his native Japan prior to the 2012 season. Iwakuma has enjoyed a terrific career in Seattle, where he has pitched to a 3.42 ERA/3.87 FIP across 883 2/3 innings, but whether he’ll continue to be effective is in question. Right shoulder problems limited Iwakuma to six starts in 2017, when he posted a 4.35 ERA/6.42 FIP in 31 innings, leading the Mariners to decline his $10MM club option in favor of a $1MM buyout early in the offseason.
Iwakuma’s still on the mend from the arthroscopic shoulder surgery he underwent in September, so there’s no chance he’ll make it back to a big league mound during the first month of the season. When the Mariners re-signed Iwakuma in late November, the hope was that he’d be healthy enough to return to the majors by May or June. He’s seemingly on track to do that, as TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune wrote over the weekend.
“This guy is far from done,” pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre told Cotterill.
If Iwakuma ultimately does rejoin the Mariners and perform well, it would be a significant gain for a team with some question marks in its rotation. Ace James Paxton, former ace Felix Hernandez and the steady Mike Leake represent a capable trio (though durability issues have beset Paxton and Hernandez in recent years), but the M’s don’t have any other proven MLB starters on their 40-man roster.