In the evening of the day he flunked a physical exam for his future team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma abruptly re-signed with the Mariners, his team of the past four years. General manager Jerry Dipoto announced Thursday night that Iwakuma, 35 in April, signed a deal for 2016 with vesting options for 2017 and 2018.
“We said from the start that Kuma was a priority for us,” Dipoto said in a team statement. “Obviously, the developments from the last few days allowed us to get back in the game.
“It’s a credit to our ownership; to (CEO) Howard Lincoln, to (president) Kevin Mather, to our entire ownership group that we were able to get aggressive and find a way to bring Kuma back to the Mariners. We’re all thrilled. This is a big move for us. We feel like this really puts a finishing touch on what we think has been a very productive off-season.”
Iwakuma signed a deal Dec. 6 with the Dodgers for $45 million over three years after concluding his Mariners tenure for $7 million in 2015. The Mariners offered $30 million over two years, but were unwilling to guarantee a third year. The Dodgers were, pending a physical, but for reasons still unclear, Iwakuma didn’t pass the exam.
He missed the first month of 2014 season with a strained tendon in a finger, and missed 10 weeks in 2015 with a strained lat muscle behind his right shoulder, but he returned in early July.
Iwakuma was 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA (51 ER, 129.2 IP) with 111 strikeouts in 20 starts last season, including 4-2 with a 2.17 ERA (11 ER, 45.2 IP) with 43 strikeouts in his final seven starts.
Seattle won 11 of his final 16 starts of the season when he was 9-4 with a 2.82 ERA (34 ER, 108.1 IP) with 97 strikeouts.
On Aug. 12 vs. Baltimore, he threw the fifth no-hitter in Mariners history (fourth by a single pitcher) and became the second Japanese-born pitcher with a major league no-hitter (Hideo Nomo, twice).
In four seasons with Seattle, Iwakuma has combined to go 47-25 with a 3.17 ERA (230 ER, 653.2 IP) with 551 strikeouts in 111 games, including 97 starts. Since joining the Mariners rotation on July 2, 2012, his 3.09 ERA (214 ER, 623.1 IP) as a starter is the fourth-best in the American League (min. 600 IP) and ninth in the majors.
In 2013, he was an American League All-Star and was named the Mariners MVP pitcher by the Seattle chapter of the BBWAA.
Earlier in the day, Jack Zduriencik, Dipoto’s predecessor in Seattle now a commentator on MLB Network, said the failure in the physical severely limited Iwakuma’s options at this point in the calendar.
“He’s in a tough spot right now,” Zduriencik said on MLB Tonight. “He’s turned down the (Mariners) qualifying offer. He’s now a free agent technically, and his options are the Dodgers can try to re-sign him or work something out at a reduced rate. Any club right now can do the same, as can the Seattle Mariners for that matter. So his leverage is kind of shot right now.”
The starting rotation now has Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton as the he likeliest starting five, with newcomer Nathan Karns along with holdovers Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery supplying competition.