That’s right, the bear is back.
I didn’t know how the Iwakuma situation was going to play out, or how I really felt about bringing him back in the first place. Conflict brewed in the depths of my inner thoughts. Schizophrenic banter echoed into the far recesses of my mind. I thought to myself, “Kuma has been a really outstanding pitcher, he just pitched a no-hitter!”. “Yeah, but he is also getting pretty old and has missed significant time the last two seasons with injury.”. “But he should age well, he doesn’t really throw that hard and some of those injuries were fluky.”. “True, but do you really want to offer three years to a pitcher with that much risk attached?”. Then, before I could even come to grips with my own inner conflict, the Dodgers swooped in like a Crested Caracara in dire need of a fulfilling meal. The loss was more of a gut wrenching blow that I expected. The armchair GM mindset has the tendency to take over and we sometimes forget why we watch baseball at all. At some point before you ever cared about wOBA, WAR, BABIP, and FIP you fell in love with a game, baseball was pure, unadulterated fun. I loved watching Kuma; he has been one of the more entertaining Mariners of the last 10 years. I—as everyone else in the baseball world—assumed that Kuma coming back to Seattle was a done deal, save for the legal work. The interest in a reunion was mutual, and neither side made much of an effort to hide it. So naturally when reports started to surface featuring the Dodgers interest in Kuma, I brushed them aside as white noise in the post Greinke hot stove.
Sometimes, we just get it wrong.
Despite the warning signs the Kuma signing seemed to catch just about everyone off guard, and Mariners fans were left in shock and disbelief. The Mariners themselves of course reacted rather quickly, with Dipoto making a trade he probably didn’t want to make, the very next day. The Mariners parted with a piece in Carson Smith that they otherwise likely would have kept. The Dodgers losing out on Greinke created a pitching market domino effect. Greinke to the Diamondbacks, Iwakuma to the Dodgers, and Cueto to the Giants. In the wake, the Mariners were left wanting and without.
And now this. Failed physicals are a strange occurrence, in that one team may “find” something that another may not even care about. Seattle has been on the receiving end of this in 2003, when Omar Vizquel failed his physical in a trade that would have reunited the Gold Glove SS with his former team. More recently Mike Napoli has been the victim of the failed physical when the Red Sox pulled their long term offer after discovering a degenerative hip condition. Carlos Gomez, Grant Balfour, Matt Kemp, and Guillermo Mota are just a few of the other names who have failed physicals in the past 10 years. Enter Iwakuma, the most recent member inducted into the baseball fraternity of failed physicals.
It was difficult to ascertain what Iwakuma’s failed physical meant for his potential union with the Dodgers, but L.A. made it known right away that they had pulled their original offer. This obviously left the door wide open for the Mariners or potentially other teams to swoop in and snatch him away. Even feeling as optimistic as I was, I never truly expected the deal with the Dodgers to fall through. At most I figured the two sides would settle on a performance friendly deal favoring the team. Less than a day later the Mariners—in glorious Christmas party fashion—had re-signed Kuma to a team friendly one year deal with two vesting options. No testing the waters, no back and forth, no dancing or tiptoeing or beating around the bush. It seemed as though both sides wished to rectify their wrongdoings. Jerry, wanting to make up for his lack of flexibility during the original negotiation period and Kuma, for running off to join the Dodgers in the first place. I can’t imagine how it feels to be L.A. right now, having lost their two top pitching targets and having nothing but scraps to choose from now.
I’m still coming to grips with the insanity of the entire situation. We lost him. I had come to grips with it, I had accepted it and I was ready to move on. And yet here we are, 12 days after the initial blow and Hisashi Iwakuma is again a Seattle Mariner. Welcome home you old bear.