Amid constant rumors of the Mariners opposing the NBA arena, and what seems like an imminent sale, it’s nice to have something to analyze that doesn’t involve wringing our hands over the Mariners doing something the equivalent to when us guys like to go make our friends look stupid in front of otherwise-interested females. The Mariners have become the worst kind of friend.
But the Mariners signed Hisashi Iwakuma to a two-year extension on Friday that could make Iwakuma one of the offseason’s greatest bargains. Don’t let Iwakuma’s modest 0.8 WAR fool you, he’s a bit of a SABR-darling in his own right. You see, the problem with WAR as it relates to pitchers is that it uses FIP, instead of xFIP. Iwakuma gave up significantly more home runs than one would expect based on his opponent’s batted-ball types, and as a groundball pitcher, it seems legitimate that he’s due for a regression in the right direction. Combined with what was a better-than-expected strikeout rate, and a propensity for handing righties, Iwakuma figures to see pretty similar peripheral numbers next year, even in a more hitter-friendly Safeco Field.
I don’t know if the terms of Iwakuma’s deal are officially know at this point, but right now we have Jon Heyman’s knowledge to count on:
Based on prior pitchers with similar skill-sets to Iwakuma I predicted that Iwakuma would receive a deal in the range of three-years, $24-27 million. As it turns out, Iwakuma may have offered the Mariners a bit of a hometown (defacto hometown anyways) discount that was also aided on the other end by an exclusive negotiating window that the Mariners had with Iwakuma. If Iwakuma hadn’t signed by November 3, and had still re-signed with the Mariners, he’d have had to wait until May 15 to pitch for the team.
Iwakuma’s deal essentially works out to either two years, $14 million, or three years, $20 million.
Considering the potential for regression, and the strides that Iwakuma made when his conditioning caught up to the American game, and a 2012 season that rivaled a career average season for fellow-free-agent Anibal Sanchez, but with a higher groundball percentage (52.2 compared to 44.5), the Mariners got a relative bargain. Sure, Sanchez is basically three-years younger, but he figures to cash in for a much higher pay-day than what Iwakuma got.
Now the Mariners have one slot behind Felix Hernandez locked up, and if they ride one more year of Jason Vargas in arbitration, they should create a relatively soft landing for Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker in the next couple years.
This probably shouldn’t be the end of the Mariners attempts to solidify their rotation this offseason, especially considering that the strength of this free-agent class is the massive supply of No. 3 starters. However, today answered one of the key questions going into 2013, as Iwakuma may take the ball on the second day of the season.