The Mariners announced on Monday that they have re-signed free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma to a minor league contract, with an invitation to major league spring training.
Iwakuma was limited to just six major league starts last year because of a shoulder injury which eventually required surgery in late September. All we know about his health at this point is that he told the Japanese media he hopes to be ready for the start of the coming season.
This deal is a smart one for the Mariners, who will be able to see how Iwakuma looks once he’s able to pitch again, and determine if he can help the major league club without having to pay out a lot of guaranteed money.
He’s always been effective when on the mound for Seattle. Iwakuma turns 37-years-old this April, and he has a lifetime major league record of 63-39 with a 3.42 ERA. He doesn’t rely on velocity to get hitters out, so his chances of rebounding from shoulder surgery seem a little better than most.
This is a minor league contract, so there is a chance Iwakuma pitches for the Rainiers next year. The logical way that would happen: if he’s still rebuilding arm strength by the time the season starts, and isn’t quite ready for the majors but looks promising during spring training. In that scenario, you could picture Iwakuma in the Rainiers rotation for a few turns at the beginning of the season.
On the other hand, if a healthy Iwakuma pitches poorly in spring training and doesn’t look like he’ll help the big club in 2018, I doubt he’ll pitch for Tacoma.
Is it the end of the line for Iwakuma, or can he pull off a comeback? It will be something to keep an eye on in March.
- Here’s the Seattle Times news story on Hisashi Iwakuma re-signing.
- ESPN.com has an easy-to-read breakdown on the details of how Shohei Ohtani will come to the U.S.