Iwakuma signs two-year deal, plus option

The Mariners opened the free-agency period in a positive way on Friday night, re-signing right-handed starter Hisashi Iwakuma to a two-year contract extension with an option for a third year.

Iwakuma, 31, would have become a free agent after Saturday if he and the Mariners didn’t come to an agreement, but the two sides hammered out a contract that includes an option for a possible third season in 2015 as well.

As first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com, the deal is worth $14 million for two years, with Iwakuma earning $6.5 million in 2013 and ’14, with a $1 million buyout on a $7 million option for 2015.

Iwakuma originally signed a one-year, $1.5 million base contract with Seattle last year as a free agent out of Japan.

“Kuma really helped solidify our rotation in the second half of the season,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He is a competitor on the mound and did a great job for us. He got stronger with each start during the season and gained confidence. I am looking forward to seeing him on the field ready to work when we start Spring Training in Peoria.”

Iwakuma went 9-5 with 3.16 ERA over 30 appearances in his first season in the Majors. He began the year as a long reliever, then transitioned into the rotation in midseason and went 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts.

Iwakuma’s ERA as a starter set a rookie club record, bettering the previous mark of 2.67 by Felix Hernandez in 2005. Among AL pitchers with at least 100 innings, his 3.16 ERA ranked seventh and he had the third-lowest ERA among AL starters with at least 15 starts.

Iwakuma had a potential $3 million more in incentive bonuses in last year’s contract, but didn’t reach any of that additional money since the escalator clauses began with 20 starts and 140 innings pitched, while he ended up at 16 starts and 125 1/3 innings.

That contract also included a stipulation that Iwakuma would become a free agent if no extension was agreed upon by Saturday. Iwakuma could have still re-signed with the Mariners in that scenario, but wouldn’t have been eligible to pitch until May 15, about six weeks into the regular season. Instead, Iwakuma agreed to the extension on Friday and now figures as part of Seattle’s rotation going into 2013.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder joins Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan as returning starters, with Erasmo Ramirez, Hector Noesi and young prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer also expected to contend for jobs next spring.

By keeping Iwakuma in the fold, the Mariners should be able to concentrate now on adding offense over the rest of the offseason instead of needing to add another veteran starter to their rotation.

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