SEATTLE (AP) — Throughout Hisashi Iwakuma's free agency, the Seattle Mariners remained in contact, and the team moved swiftly when the pitcher unexpectedly became available again.
How quick? Less than 48 hours after finding out Iwakuma was back on the market, the Mariners completed a deal with the Japanese-born right-hander.
"I feel like this was a great opportunity for us to reunite with a guy we always felt should have been with the Mariners," Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said.
Iwakuma was back in Seattle on Friday after agreeing to to a deal that guarantees $12 million and could be worth $47.5 million over three years if he pitches 190 innings per season.
He opened his news conference by saying in English, "The Bear is back in Seattle," and the Mariners couldn't be happier.
"A lot of things happened in the last week. It was like a big wave going up and down," Iwakuma said through an interpreter. "Eventually I was able to sign here, and this is where I wanted to be."
Seattle moved quickly to retain Iwakuma after he had originally agreed to a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Iwakuma says after going through a physical with the Dodgers earlier this week, the team indicated it wanted to "renegotiate" the originally agreed upon terms.
That's when Dipoto, Seattle's new GM, swooped in and added another proven arm to his rotation. Assistant general manager Jeff Kingston told reporters the Mariners had no issues with the results of Iwakuma's physical at the end of the regular season.
"We were comfortable with (his health) from the get go," Dipoto said.
The Dodgers had no comment about what happened with Iwakuma.
"I don't know if I was stunned. It was unfortunate," Iwakuma said. "I'm here today, and in the end it worked out for me."
And it worked out for Seattle to add another experienced starter and provide another layer of depth to its rotation. Finding a way to re-sign the right-hander, who turns 35 in April, was a priority for Seattle entering the offseason. There were several reports Dec. 6 of a $45 million, three-year agreement between Iwakuma and the Dodgers, pending a physical, and the Mariners then acquired left-handed starter Wade Miley from Boston.
Iwakuma was 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 20 starts last season for the Mariners, including the first no-hitter of his career in August against Baltimore. He was 4-2 with a 2.17 ERA over his final seven starts.
Iwakuma has pitched his entire U.S. career with Seattle, going 47-25 with a 3.17 ERA in 111 games.
"The Mariners stayed connected with me from the very beginning to the very end and that helped me a lot," Iwakuma said.
Iwakuma gets a $1 million signing bonus payable through December 2017 and a $10 million salary this year.
Seattle has $10 million options for 2017 and 2018, and Iwakuma would get a $1 million buyout if either option is declined. The 2017 option would become guaranteed at $14 million if he pitches 162 innings next year, and the 2018 option would become guaranteed at $15 million if he pitches 162 innings in 2017 or 324 combined in 2016 and '17.
In every season, he can earn $500,000 each for 150 innings pitched and each additional 10 through 190. He receives a full no-trade provision, eight business class plane tickets annually between Japan and the U.S, an interpreter and a trainer with a $100,000 salary. When the contract ends, he will become a free agent again.
Dipoto said the structure of the deal was different from what the club's offer during the season. He praised ownership for going beyond the prospective budget to bring Iwakuma back.
"Everybody ended up walking away from this happy with the result," Dipoto said.