Iwakuma says everything worked out right
In the end, Hisashi Iwakuma says he thinks things worked out for the best. And he got no argument from Mariners officials who were thrilled to re-sign the 34-year-old right-hander on a one-year guaranteed deal that automatically extends two more years if he pitches 162 innings each of the next two seasons.
“I felt love, passion and needed here more than anything else,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki, “and that’s why I’m here today to be part of the Seattle Mariners.”
Iwakuma was all smiles at a Friday press conference at Safeco Field after agreeing to return to the Mariners in a surprising turnaround after the Dodgers pulled back a three-year, $45 million agreement and asked him to renegotiate due to some questions they had after giving him a physical exam.
The Mariners had given Iwakuma an exit physical at the end of last season and had no qualms about jumping back into a deal with the Japanese standout.
“We are very comfortable with his physical condition,” assistant general manager Jeff Kingston said. “Certainly it was a surprise [that the Dodgers had concerns], given our information and what our doctors saw and our history with the player.”
According to the Associated Press, Iwakuma will earn $11 million guaranteed this season, with the ability to add up to $2.5 million based on innings pitched ($500,000 for every 10 innings from 150 through 190).
The Mariners will have a $10 million option for 2017 and ’18, with that number rising to $14 million in ’17 and ’15 million in ’18 if he pitches more than 162 innings the previous year. And again, he can reach up to an additional $2.5 million each of those seasons based on innings reached from 150 to 190.
Thus if Iwakuma stays healthy and pitches full seasons, he could earn slightly more than the three-year, $45 million that the Dodgers pulled off the table.
“I think it was two days ago [the Dodgers] told me they wanted me to renegotiate and right when that happened, the Mariners reached out to me and made me a good offer,” Iwakuma said after his press conference. “In my head, I knew I wanted to come back and play here. So I had a grey cloud on top of me that went away two days ago. It’s been a great two days.”
Iwakuma missed 11 weeks last season due to a strained lat muscle behind his right shoulder and was out for the first month of 2014 with a torn tendon in the middle finger of his right hand after catching it in a net while working out prior to Spring Training.
Iwakuma hasn’t had any structural problems with his shoulder or elbow during his four years in the Major Leagues, which are the normal health concerns that worry teams, but most pitchers who’ve performed as long as Iwakuma have questions that can arise in medical testing.
“I am very, very healthy,” said Iwakuma, who went 9-4 with a 3.10 ERA in 17 starts and threw a no-hitter after returning from the disabled list last year. “They had their own medical issues. We went through a physical and they said they wanted to renegotiate. That’s all I can say about that.”
Kingston said Mariners ownership had to agree to push payroll up to land Iwakuma, having already reallocated money to acquire other players and traded for Wade Miley from the Red Sox to take his spot in the rotation. But the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“It’s such a rare situation and a lot of times if there are issues with a physical, the player and club will find some resolution and quickly work through those,” Kingston said. “This instance just shows how attached Iwakuma is to our organization and vice versa. When he gave us that opportunity, we seized it and took every possible step to not let him go elsewhere.”
Iwakuma acknowledged his initial reaction to the Dodgers’ decision was “Why? What’s going on,” and that he assumed he’d be back on the free-agent market exploring other opportunities. But the Mariners had other ideas.
“I honestly thought that was going to happen and I was going to go through free agency again and explore,” he said. “But before anything happened, the Mariners reached out to me and right at that second, I knew this is the place I needed to be and it all worked out.”
Iwakuma initially came to Seattle on a one-year, $1.5 million contract in 2012, then pitched the last three seasons for a combined $20.5 million.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Mariners designated outfielder Dan Robertson for assignment. Robertson had been claimed off waivers from the Angels on Nov. 6.