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Hisashi Iwakuma and What Might’ve Been

December 9, 2013

It was just over three years ago (three years, three days to be exact) that the A’s failed to reach an agreement with Hisashi Iwakuma who they won the posting rights to with a $19.1M bid. Iwakuma was rumored to be asking for a deal comparable to Barry Zito‘s with the Giants (seven years and $126M). The A’s were obviously never going to do that. Coupled with the posting fee that would’ve represented a total commitment of $145M or an average annual value (assuming a seven-year contract) of $20.7M. Oakland was looking to spend $3-5M a year. Iwakuma returned to Japan, the Mariners signed him as a free-agent the next season following in the footsteps of other Japanese stars like Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Kenji Johjima. After a 0.5 WAR rookie season, he put together a sterling 4.5 WAR 2013, with 33 starts and 219 2/3 innings of 7.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 baseball for a 2.66 ERA and 3.44 FIP making an All Star team while finishing third in American League Cy Young voting.

The A’s shouldn’t have signed him at all for the amount he was seeking back then (he clearly revised downward his expectations the following offseason he was on the market) and its a good thing they didn’t as despite the fact he would’ve earned his salary in 2013, he thus far has been worth a total of $23.7M and the A’s would’ve already paid him over $55M under his terms between salary and posting fee. But you wonder if Iwakuma who earned $1.5M in 2012 and then $6.5M this past season (he is also set to earn $6.5M in 2014 and Seattle has a $7M option for 2015) is happy with his decision. For $5M a year, a number the A’s felt comfortable with, the A’s likely still go on to achieve their success, perhaps even get further with such a strong pitcher supporting the efforts. In the past two seasons the A’s have gone a combined 190-134 while the Mariners have gone a lowly 146-178. Wonder if Iwakuma has regrets?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2013 9:15 pm

    Great points! Until I just looked a few of them up, I never realized how outrageous some of those NPB league posting fees were! 19.1 mil for Iwakuma of course, and 50+m for Matsuzaka and Darvish. Of the huge posting fee guys, really only Ichiro ($13.1m) and Darvish ($51.7 m) have been good investments. That market has been such a craps shoot otherwise, though the new $20 million posting limit set to be adopted by the MLB and NPB should help keep that market sane, while giving smaller market teams a legit shot at the upper-tier NPB players. Good article

    • December 10, 2013 5:39 pm

      Thank you! I agree that I think those two really were the ones worth it. Aoki who fetched a tiny posting fee was clearly worth it too for Milwaukee. But the truth is, any posting fee represents paying a guy more. Oakland was right in viewing the salary and posting fee as separate items, I realize it is unfortunate and unfair to Iwakuma, but they had spent $19.1M and whatever they paid him would be added to that investment. Even though the $20M posting limit will likely improve matters for smaller market teams, you look at teams like Oakland giving $19.1M for the right to sign someone, and that just isn’t going to happen often. There are too many Kei Igawas and Hideki Irabus out there to worry a team when it comes to spending money like that on a guy when they can get a proven MLB player.

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