Mariners Insider Blog

Iwakuma says he’s healthy, happy to be returning to Mariners

Right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is returning to the Mariners after his three-year deal with the Dodgers fell apart because of health concerns. Iwakuma agreed Thursday to a one-year contract that has vesting options for two more years.
Right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is returning to the Mariners after his three-year deal with the Dodgers fell apart because of health concerns. Iwakuma agreed Thursday to a one-year contract that has vesting options for two more years. AP

SEATTLE — Start with this: Hisashi Iwakuma insists he’s healthy and not a medical risk as the Los Angeles Dodgers implied earlier this week by backing away from a guaranteed three-year deal for $45 million.

"I’m very healthy," Iwakuma declared. "They (the Dodgers) had their own medical issues. I went to a physical, and they said they wanted to renegotiate. That’s all I know."

And the Mariners agree and moving swiftly to reacquire Iwakuma after his deal fell apart with the Dodgers.

"We were comfortable with it from the get-go," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We know Kuma, his health and his history as well as anybody. It was very simple. We understood where he was going into the off-season.

"We have every confidence that situation has not changed, and we’re comfortable moving forward."

For all that, the Mariners gained some built-in safeguards in snagging Iwakuma, a 34-year-old right-hander, on the rebound.

The guaranteed portion of the deal covers just one year and $12 million, but that package contains two vesting options that can, if Iwakuma stays healthy, boost its three-year value to $47.5 million.

Know this, too: Iwakuma is pleased at the turn of events.

"Hello, everyone," he said in English while opening his news conference Friday at Safeco Field. "The Bear is back in Seattle."

Kuma means bear in Japanese. This was one happy bear.

Switching to his native language, Iwakuma added, "It’s great to be here. What happened with the Dodgers is they said they wanted to renegotiate. When that happened, the Seattle Mariners (got back in touch).

"I felt love, I felt passion, I felt needed here more than anywhere else. That’s why I’m here today to be a part of the Seattle Mariners."

Iwakuma will get a $1 million signing bonus and a $10 million salary for next season. The Mariners hold $10 million options, with $1 million buyout clauses, to retain Iwakuma for each of the next two years.

Iwakuma can vest those options — turn them into guarantees — by pitching 162 innings in each of the next two years. He can also vest the 2018 option by pitching 324 innings in 2016-17.

The deal also includes $500,000 bonuses each year that trigger if Iwakuma reaches 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings for a potential total annual yield of an additional $2.5 million.

"I feel very confident (of triggering the options)," Iwakuma said. "This is the place that I’ve been able to pitch for the last four years. Obviously, I’m going to take one year at a time and let the rest take care of itself."

Iwakuma signed his new contract after the Mariners cleared space on their 40-man roster by designating light-hitting outfielder Dan Robertson for assignment.

The Mariners acquired Robertson, 30, is a Nov. 6 waiver claim from the Los Angeles Angels. He batted .280 last season in 75 at-bats over 37 big-league games but spent most of the year at Triple-A Salt Lake.

Iwakuma’s agreement with the Dodgers hinged on no problems surfacing in a new medical examination, a routine provision in such deals, but those findings raised a red flag among LA officials.

The nature of the Dodgers’ concerns remain unspecified, but they responded by seeking to modify the contract. When those talks stalled, the Mariners re-entered the picture.

"The Mariners called me right away," Iwakuma said. "We were always connected. I’m very happy for that. I felt I was wanted here more than anywhere else."

While Iwakuma missed 11 weeks last season because of a strained back muscle, he returned in early July and finished 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 20 starts. He pitched a no-hitter on Aug. 12 in a 3-0 victory over Baltimore.

Iwakuma also got better in the closing weeks: 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA in his last 12 starts with 74 strikeouts and 13 walks in 82 innings.

That was good enough for the Mariners.

"It truly took less than five minutes to get everybody on board with this one," Dipoto said. "There was never anything but an `absolutely, let’s go for it’ (from ownership). That part is rare."

Dipoto revealed the agreement late Thursday to Mariners employees at a holiday staff party. The club made an official announcement shortly thereafter.

So ended the Bear’s star-crossed foray into free agency.

"A lot of things happened in the last week," Iwakuma said. "It was like a big wave (emotionally), it went up and down. But at the end, eventually, I was able to sign here. And this is where I wanted to be."

Had Iwakuma’s deal with the Dodgers gone through, the Mariners would have received a compensatory draft pick next year between the first and second rounds for losing a player who rejected a qualifying offer.

The Mariners will no longer get that pick; nor will the Dodgers forfeit a high pick as a penalty for signing a player who rejected a qualifying offer.

Iwakuma’s return bolsters a Mariners rotation already fortified by earlier off-season trades to acquire right-hander Nathan Karns from Tampa Bay and lefty Wade Miley from Boston.

"I was watching all of the moves," Iwakuma said. "Obviously, when you’re a free agent, you’re worried about yourself more than where you were. But in the end, I’m very glad they still had a spot for me."

The Mariners added Miley just one day after Iwakuma announced his intention to sign with the Dodgers. The revised rotation also includes long-time ace Felix Hernandez and holdovers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

That’s six pitchers for five slots, but Dipoto previously said Walker, Paxton and Karns will enter next season with innings-workload limitations.

"Add Hisashi Iwakuma," Dipoto said, "and that gives us the kind the depth, the kind of innings, that we want to get out of our starting rotation. We’re very happy with that group."


One former Mariners pitcher is actually heading to the Dodgers: left-hander Tyler Olson, whom the Mariners designated for assignment on Wednesday to clear roster space for right-hander A.J. Schugel.

The Mariners sent Olson to the Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash. Olson, 26, made his big-league debut last season by compiling a 5.40 ERA in 11 relief outings but spent most of the year at Triple-A Tacoma.

Schugel, 26, was acquired in a waiver claim from Arizona. He made his big-league debut last season by giving up five earned runs and 17 hits in nine innings for the Diamondbacks over five relief appearances.

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