Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma has spent his entire big-league career with the Mariners, but heading into this offseason it looked somewhat unlikely that he’d return for a seventh season in Seattle. But as Iwakuma told The Japan Times on Monday, he has received an offer from the Mariners, and while nothing’s finalized, he hopes to make an announcement about a reunion in the near future.
Iwakuma, who will be 37 years old next season, was sidelined from May 3 until the end of the season with shoulder inflammation, and he finally had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder in the last week of September and thus will be out of commission for the entire offseason.
Due to a combination of his age, his recent injury history, the fact that he’ll be getting a late start on his throwing program, and that he’s coming off a career-worst 4.35 ERA over just 31 innings, it seems most likely that Seattle will try to bring Iwakuma back on a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. In the best-case scenario for the veteran right-hander, he’d probably get an incentive-laden big-league deal for little more than the minimum.
It’s worth noting that Seattle isn’t exactly in great need of rotation help right now; they’ve got a pair of rotation anchors in James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, a couple of solid mid-rotation guys in Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez, and a trio of pitchers primed to compete for the fifth starter spot in Ariel Miranda, Andrew Moore, and Marco Gonzales.
He’s never quite rediscovered the form that allowed him to finish third in AL Cy Young voting in 2013 while posting a 2.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 219.2 innings. But particularly considering that he’s spent his entire career in the American League, Iwakuma has been a very solid front-of-the-rotation starter for the most part, posting a 3.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 883.2 career innings.
Especially if the Mariners can bring him back on a minor-league deal, Iwakuma is a nice piece to have around, even if he’s no longer a guy they’re counting on to be one of the primary anchors of the rotation. If he bounces back, he could allow GM Jerry Dipoto to engage in his favorite activity—making trades—by flipping some of his excess starting pitchers to help restock a farm system that has been somewhat decimated over the past year. Then again, since the Mariners used 40 different pitchers in 2017—including an incredible 17 starters—maybe he should hold on to all the quality pitching depth he can find.