The Dodgers have been busy today, adding a veteran pitcher to their rotation.
The worst-kept secret heading into the Winter Meetings is that the Dodgers need pitching. Their rotation has three healthy options, and their bullpen still has some holes.
Iwakuma has spent the last four years living in Felix Hernandez‘s shadow up in Seattle, but he’s been an effective pitcher in his four years in the majors. In 111 appearances (97 starts), Iwakuma posted a 3.17 ERA/3.62 FIP over his last four years. He finished in third in AL Cy Young voting in 2013 after posting a 2.66 ERA and 185 strikeouts in a career high 219 2/3 innings. Iwakuma fell off a bit in 2014 but still posted an ERA in the mid-3.00’s, which is probably type of pitcher he figures to be.
Last year, Iwakuma allowed four runs in each of his first three starts before hitting the DL with a strained lat. He had a rough first start back, but only allowed more than four runs three times in 17 post-DL starts.
Iwakuma pitched for roughly 10 years in the Nippon Professional Baseball league and posted a 107-69 record, 2.75 ERA and 1,175 strikeouts in his Japanese career. He won Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young, the Sawamura Award, and the MVP award in 2008 after getting the win in 21 of his teams’ 65 wins that year.
Oct 2, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (18) throws out a pitch in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Iwakuma is a bit of a ground ball pitcher, with ground ball rates over 50 percent in three of his four major league seasons. Despite pitching a majority of games at Safeco, Iwakuma has always had a slightly above-average HR/FB rate, so that’s a bit of a concern. Last year, Iwakuma posted the best swinging strike percentage of his career, at 10.6 percent.
Iwakuma received and declined a qualifying offer, meaning this signing will cost the Dodgers their first round pick and the Mariners will receive a compensation pick. By losing Zack Greinke and not signing Kyle Funkhouser last season, the Dodgers currently have two comp picks, and will likely have a third if/when Howie Kendrick signs elsewhere. If the Dodgers sign another qualified free agent, they will forfeit their second round pick, which comes after all of the comp picks.
His deal with the Dodgers is for three years, $45 million (per True Blue LA), which is a bit much for a pitcher that will be 35 on April 12. ESPN writers are pushing narratives, wondering why the Dodgers would pay for Iwakuma’s age 37 season and not Greinke’s. The Dodgers won’t be paying Iwakuma like Greinke, and they won’t be expecting the same type of production out of Iwakuma as they would out of Greinke. They won’t find anyone that can replace Greinke, but they can find a ton of depth to ensure they have a full rotation/bullpen next year. A less expensive, shorter term contract to a very solid pitcher helps the Dodgers have some flexibility in the coming years, as their big-name pitching prospects should be ready to go next season or this September.
My impressions of this signing depends on what the Dodgers do next. If Iwakuma is their number two starter next season, it might be a rough season. Iwakuma as a third starter, with some combination of Alex Wood, Brett Anderson, Hyun-jin Ryu and another FA signing behind him would actually be pretty great if they can stay healthy.
In other Dodgers-taking-former-Mariners news, it appears Mariners’ first base coach Chris Woodward will be joining Dave Roberts‘ coaching staff. Woodward had a 12-year MLB career, playing for five teams primarily at shortstop. He only appeared in more than 100 games once in his 12 years and had the best year of his career in 2002 with Toronto, when he hit .276 with 13 home runs and 45 RBIs.
Woodward was reported to return to Seattle in October, but apparently that won’t be the case. If that post holds true, it appears the Dodgers just got a great coach, as Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto called him a “real impact coach”. Kyle Seager, whose brother will likely be the starting shortstop in LA next season, also praised Woodward for his teaching ability.