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January 5, 2012 at 5:43 PM

Mariners sign starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma from Japan

The Mariners have finally made a move that goes beyond backups and bullpen arms, inking Japanese free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma to a deal this afternoon.
Iwakuma, 30, will join Seattle’s starting rotation this coming season, likely slotting in as a No. 3 arm behind Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda. The deal is for one year, $1.5 million but there are an additional $3.4 million in incentives attached.
These incentives will be based on innings pitched, games started and awards.
The incentives kick in at 20 starts, where he’ll be paid a $200,000 bonus. The bonuses keep accumulating every couple of starts after that. He’ll get another $250,000 if he reaches 22 starts, then $300,000 if he hits 25 starts.
Iwakuma can make $400,000 in additional bonuses if he reaches 30 starts and another $400,000 for 200 innings pitched.
The innings-related bonuses begin at 140.
Iwakuma spent four nights in Seattle in mid-December where he met with GM Jack Zduriencik and was shown around town. He also took a physical with the team at that point, but still had offers from about five other clubs he considered before joining the Mariners.
“Iwakuma has been a highly successful pitcher in Japan,” Zduriencik said in a release. “We look forward to his contributions…as he will be given the opportunity to be part of our starting rotation.”
He’ll actually be given more than just an opportunity. He’s coming in on a major league deal, not a minor league contract that is typically reserved for guys just auditioning. The Mariners also could have stayed a lot closer to home if they intended on using Iwakuma as a long reliever.
Instead, they signed him just a year after Iwakuma failed to reach a deal with the Oakland Athletics, who had paid a posting fee for the right to negotiate with him. When the two sides failed to come to terms, it led to much criticism of the posting process throughout baseball.
Photo Credit: AP

Anyhow, we’ll be speaking to Zduriencik and Iwakuma via conference call at 6:30 p.m. PT.
Oe of the questions we’ll ask Zduriencik is whether this concludes his search of veteran pitchers this off-season. Zduriencik wanted to bring in a veteran arm for the rotation, but I’m not sure Iwakuma fits that bill since he’s never pitched in the majors.
In Japan, he went 107-69 in 222 games with Kintetsu and Rakuten. He was the Pacific League MVP in 2008 and winner of the Cy Young equivalent as well that year.
In the past year, though, there have been concerns expressed about a drop in velocity. We’ll see how his stuff translates from Japan over to here, because until we do, speculating off his stats is a rather meaningless pursuit.
They used a different type of ball in Japan this season and pitchers saw there numbers improve as a result so it’s hard to say where things stand for Iwakuma right now. At best, hes a mid-rotation guy. At worst, he’s back-end fodder.

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