The Mariners announced that right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano has been signed to a one-year, Major League contract. Hirano is represented by John Boggs & Associates. Left-hander Ricardo Sanchez has been designated for assignment to create roster space.
Hirano will earn $1.6MM in guaranteed money, as per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (all Twitter links), plus incentive bonuses based on numbers of games pitched and finished. Hirano can begin to unlock these bonuses if he makes at least 30 appearances, or finishes at least 20 games. There is also a $250K transaction payment due to Hirano whenever he is traded.
After coming to Major League Baseball on a two-year, $6MM deal with the Diamondbacks in the 2017-18 offseason, Hirano finished sixth in NL Rookie Of The Year voting in 2018 after posting a 2.44 ERA, 2.57 K/BB rate, 50.3% grounder rate, and 8.0 K/9 over 66 1/3 innings out of Arizona’s pen. Despite a higher strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) and K/BB rate (2.77) in 2019, Hirano’s ERA ballooned to 4.75 over 53 frames, and he also spent a few weeks on the injured list due to elbow inflammation.
Despite the wide gap in ERA over the two seasons, Hirano’s advanced metrics indicate a pretty similar level of performance in both 2018 (3.69 FIP, 4.01 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA, .311 xwOBA) and 2019 (4.04 FIP, 4.24 xFIP, 3.95 SIERA, .296 xwOBA). Hirano finished in the 94th percentile of all pitchers in terms of limiting hard contact last season, so the Mariners are hoping the righty can translate that soft contact into better on-field results.
Though Hirano (who turns 36 in March) only has four career saves, the number of finish-saved incentives in his contract indicate that the Mariners see him as a potential answer to their unsettled ninth-inning situation. Matt Magill is ostensibly the top in-house choice after saving five games for the M’s down the stretch last season, though those were the only five saves of Magill’s big league career. While Hirano rarely got the call in save situations for the D’Backs, he has a long and successful history of saving games in Japan, racking up 143 saves for the Orix Buffaloes between 2013-17.
Sanchez posted a 4.44 ERA, 3.55 K/BB rate, and 8.3 K/9 over 146 innings for Double-A Arkansas last season, starting all 27 of his games. The 22-year-old southpaw already has six years of professional experience, beginning in the Angels’ system before pitching with the Braves from 2015-18.