With Kuma gone, what now for Mariners?

IwakumaMinnAs the Winter Meetings officially get underway this morning in Nashville, the Mariners now know their starting pitching search is headed a new direction after the Dodgers landed Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal that Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com is reporting at $45 million.

That’s a healthy pay raise for a guy who’ll turn 35 in April. Iwakuma made $21.5 million total in his four seasons in Seattle, including $20 million over a final three-year deal that wrapped up at $7 million last season.

The Mariners wanted to bring Iwakuma back, to the point where general manager Jerry Dipoto openly talked of that as his highest priority this offseason. But their initial offer to Iwakuma was believed to be a two-year pact and it’s not known yet how far they moved from that or whether they got near the Dodgers’ final offer.

The price of pitching clearly is going up and the arms race has been the prime story in the early offseason. While position players seem to be waiting for dominoes to begin falling, pitchers have been moving quickly and Iwakuma joins the impressive likes of David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija and John Lackey who’ve now inked deals with new teams.

Where the Mariners turn now remains to be seen, but Dipoto knew there was a chance Iwakuma might opt elsewhere as soon as he declined Seattle’s one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer to become a free agent.

The Mariners figure to move relatively quickly, for two reasons. Dipoto already has shown a willingness to deal, having already engineered six trades and signed four free agents this offseason. Secondly, how the Mariners pursue answers to their first base and bullpen questions could hinge somewhat on how much money they spend on a starting pitcher, so Dipoto will want clarity as soon as possible and knows the market is moving in a hurry.

Iwakuma’s departure at least clarifies the rotation situation before all the options have disappeared, but the market has thinned already.

The most-prominent remaining free agent hurler — Johnny Cueto — sits above the Mariners’ target range, given he’s going to command a significant long-term deals and Dipoto has made it clear Seattle isn’t fishing in those waters after already spending big in recent years on Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

That may mean that other free agents like Mike Leake and Wei-Yin Chen are off limits as well, given they’re projected to command deals in the five-year, $80 million range. The  next tier of free agents includes the likes of Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Doug Fister, Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon, or Dipoto may push more toward the trade route to add another starter as he did already once this offseason by acquiring Nathan Karns from the Rays.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports the Mariners have talked to the Red Sox about potential starters, speculating Clay Buchholz or Wade Miley as the potential targets. That makes sense, particularly Miley — an innings-eating lefty who costs only $15.25 million for the next two years and still just 29. But the flip side is, Seattle would have to give up something the Red Sox want, which likely would be an established quality Major League reliever or outfielder. The Mariners aren’t loaded with either of those, or prospects, so it remains to be seen if anything comes of it.

A word of caution, again. All teams are talking and throwing ideas around. That’s what the Meetings are about. It doesn’t mean a deal is imminent.

Dipoto will meet with Seattle area media this afternoon here in Nashville for the first of his daily updates during the four-day meetings, so it’ll be interesting to see what he says at that point in regard to pitching and his other pursuits as things get rolling at the Opryland Hotel.

In other early news, former Mariner starter Chris Young agreed to a two-year, $11.75 million deal to return to the Royals and reliever Mark Lowe agreed to a two-year, $13 million pact with the Tigers, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Both those veterans helped resurrect their careers with Seattle in the past couple years and it’s good to see them getting some security with guaranteed deals in the early going this winter.

2 Comments

Miley, it is! On face value, it seems the Mariners gave up a lot for Miley, but I think Dipoto actually made a fair-smart trade. Elias is a bit of an enigma and had many unsuccessful opportunities to secure a starting job with the Mariners. He’s pretty much a swing man who became redundant with the success of Vidal Nuno. Smith is a tough one to lose, but which would you rather have? A relief pitcher that can get you 1-3 outs per game and was generally not allowed to pitch consecutive days? Or a dependable 200-inning starter who pitched well in a small ballpark and is reasonably cheap?

Already Dipoto is dismantling what it took years to build.

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