Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/16/14

The Mariners are one of the better run-prevention teams in baseball, and yesterday they added to a pitching staff that allowed the fourth fewest runs (675) in the American League last year by agreeing to a one-year contract with Hisashi Iwakuma. The 30-year-old right-hander will earn just a $1.5 million base salary in 2012, with another $3.4 million available in incentives tied to starts and innings pitched.

This deal comes one year after the Athletics won Iwakuma’s negotiating rights with a $19.1 million bid through the posting process, though the two sides failed to reach an agreement and the righty ended up back in Japan before becoming an international free agent this winter. Oakland was thinking something along the lines of $3-5 million per year while Iwakuma was said to be seeking Barry Zito money. The two sides never got close, so he returned to the Rakuten Golden Eagles on a one-year, $3.6 million contract.

Unfortunately for Iwakuma, his stock took a hit in 2011. He missed part of the season with a shoulder injury, which caused his fastball velocity to dip from its usual 88-92 down into the 84-86 range. Patrick Newman has a velocity chart over at NPB Tracker. The fastball climbed back into the upper-80′s by the end of the season, alleviating some concerns. Iwakuma has a bit of a kitchen sink approach, pitching backwards and throwing offspeed stuff in pretty much any count. His slider and forkball are ahead of his curveball and changeup. Like most Asian pitchers, he adds a bit of deception to his delivery with a hesitation. Here’s a video of him pitching in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, with the forkball on full display.

Iwakuma is not Yu Darvish, at least not when it comes to missing bats and racking up strikeouts. His best single-season strikeout rate over the last four years is 7.1 K/9 and 20.2 K% way back in 2008, and over the last three seasons it’s a 6.7 K/9 and 18.2 K%. Iwakuma has limited walks though (1.8 BB/9 and 4.9 BB% last three years), and as Patrick explained last offseason, he gets a good amount of ground balls and generally keeps the ball in the park (0.7 HR/9 last three years). Safeco Field will help him out a bit in that regard, but batters here are more capable of the long ball than the guys Iwakuma is accustomed to facing in Japan. Patrick pegged his upside “in the mid-rotation starter range” last winter, but we probably have to adjust down a bit given his most recent injury*.

* It’s worth noting that his health problems extend further back than just 2011; shoulder woes limited him to just 128.2 IP from 2006-2007, and he also had an elbow procedure late in 2007.

As far as the Mariners are concerned, the deal is basically nothing but upside. A $1.5 million base salary is a pittance, less than what Yuniesky Betancourt and Fernando Rodney signed for this offseason. The bonuses don’t kick in until he makes 20 starts or throws 140 IP according to Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times, which gives the team more than enough time to evaluate his performance and decide whether or not to keep him around all year. If he pitches poorly, they’ll cut him. Simple as that.

I don’t want to go too overboard with the upside because Iwakuma is still a soon-to-be 31-year-old righty with a fringy fastball — plus there’s a decent chance he’ll be a sub-6.0 K/9 guy — but there’s very little risk as far as Seattle is concerned. All he needs to give the Mariners is about half-a-win to be worth the base salary, though a two or three-win season isn’t completely out of question with a favorable home park and a strong defense behind him. The M’s did well to scoop up a back of the rotation candidate for so cheap when comparable hurlers are getting two guaranteed years and upwards of $6 million per season on the open market.

MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Three quarterbacks who could be traded this offseason

Wolves trade Corey Brewer to the Rockets

Yankees trade Prado to Marlins for Eovaldi in 5-player deal

Brandon Browner fined $8K for throwing Brandon Gibson to turf

Report: Sharper, NFLers called spiked drinks 'horny juice'

Rex Ryan: My wife could coach Tom Brady

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Jim Harbaugh won in laser tag by 'hunting' 10-year-old kid

Eddie Lacy is ‘very blind,’ refuses to wear goggles

Michael Phelps pleads guilty to DUI, gets probation

NFL scouts not in love with Amari Cooper?

Report: No teams interested in trading for Lance Stephenson

It is not Chip Kelly's fault if Eagles miss playoffs

New video of Ray Rice incident emerges

President Obama calls James Franco “James Flacco”

Game of the week: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys

NBA games of the weekend: Rondo's Dallas debut, Bulls-Grizz

Tuscaloosa students will have two days off if Bama plays in National Championship

Brady scares the **** out of his teammates celebrating

Longhorn Network’s yule log? Five hours of BEVO

Will a Chiefs WR finally catch a TD in Week 16?

Jon Lester and the Cubs

The Toronto Raptors reveal their new logo

Things Johnny Manziel, Browns can do to avoid a bad repeat

What if the Bengals hired Bill Walsh?

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Three quarterbacks who could be traded this offseason

Jon Lester and the Cubs

Report: NFL players used 'horny juice'

Top 10 worst NBA related commercials of all-time

Game of the week: Colts vs. Cowboys

Phelps gets probation for DUI

NFL coaches on hot seat in Week 16

The Roy Williams-Terrell Owens horse collar turns 10

Most underpaid NFL players in 2014

Gronk jokes about Brady compliment

In Matt Kemp, did the Dodgers find a pigeon in Padres?

Why the Saints are legit playoff threat

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.