The Seattle Mariners have signed free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma to a one-year contract. Iwakuma’s agent, Paul Cobbe, told ESPN.com the deal is worth $1.5 million guaranteed, but the total value could increase to $4.9 million if Iwakuma reaches designated award bonuses and incentives based on starts and innings pitched.
Iwakuma, a 30-year-old right-hander, was a long-time star for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. He slots into a Seattle rotation that’s led by former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and also includes Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas.
Iwakuma attracted interest from seven or eight major league teams and received offers from five clubs — with Oakland, Baltimore and Minnesota among his most active suitors. Cobbe said the pitcher received more than one multiyear offer and could have earned more money with other teams, but chose Seattle after developing a comfort level with the organization and the city during a visit in December.
Cobbe said Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik and the team “rolled out the red carpet” for Iwakuma and showed him “a lot of respect” during his visit. “This was Iwakuma’s first time in the U.S., and he found the city of Seattle and the people there were a really strong fit for him and his family,” Cobbe said.
Iwakuma joins 10-time All-Star and former American League MVP Ichiro Suzuki to give Seattle an added Japanese presence. Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki also says he’s been invited to spring training by the Mariners.
Iwakuma, who played in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 2008 and won the Eiji Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young. But Iwakuma missed time with a shoulder injury this season and was 6-7 with a 2.42 ERA in 17 starts. After entering the free-agent market, Iwakuma decided to sign a one-year deal to re-establish his value in anticipation of 2013.
The Oakland Athletics paid a reported $19.1 million for the right to negotiate with Iwakuma last winter. But talks between the A’s and Iwakuma’s former agent, Don Nomura, broke down with no resolution, and the pitcher returned to Japan after the 30-day negotiating window expired. Since Iwakuma had reached 10 years of service time this winter, he wasn’t subject to a posting fee like Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish. The Texas Rangers recently bid more than $50 million for the negotiating rights to Darvish, and are working to sign him by Jan. 18. If the deadline passes with no agreement, the Rangers will get a refund and Darvish will return to Japan to pitch in 2012.