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After LA pulls out, Iwakuma back to Seattle

Seattle pounces after starter's deal with Dodgers falls through

SEATTLE -- The Hisashi Iwakuma saga did a complete 360-degree twist late Thursday as the Mariners announced they've re-signed the 34-year-old right-hander to a one-year guaranteed deal with two more potential vesting years, after the Dodgers backed out of a three-year, $45 million agreement earlier in the day.

According to the Associated Press, Iwakuma will earn $11 million guaranteed this season, with the ability to add up to $2.5 million based on innings pitched ($500,000 for every 10 innings from 150 through 190).
The Mariners will have a $10 million option for 2017 and '18, with that number rising to $14 million in '17 and $15 million in '18 if he pitches more than 162 innings the previous year. And again, he can reach up to an additional $2.5 million in each of those seasons based on innings reached from 150 to 190.

Iwakuma rejected Seattle's one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in October and then agreed to a deal with the Dodgers on Dec. 6, but Jiji Press in Japan reported Thursday that the Dodgers never finalized that contract after Iwakuma failed a physical exam.

Tweet from @Mariners: Jerry Dipoto delivers a special gift to the front office at the #Mariners holiday party: Kuma is back.

"We said from the start that Kuma was a priority for us," new Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Obviously, the developments from the last few days allowed us to get back in the game. It's a credit to our ownership; to Howard Lincoln, to Kevin Mather, to our entire ownership group that we were able to get aggressive and find a way to bring Kuma back to the Mariners. We're all thrilled. This is a big move for us. We feel like this really puts a finishing touch on what we think has been a very productive offseason."

Iwakuma pitched for the Mariners the past four years and passed their exit physical at the end of last season, then was listed by Dipoto as his top priority this offseason. But Dipoto declined to offer more than two years at $30 million earlier this month, and Iwakuma agreed instead to the Dodgers' deal.

He will now return to the team that signed him initially out of Japan in 2012 on a one-year, $1.5 million deal and paid him $7 million last season in the final year of his second contract with the club.

A source told that the Dodgers hadn't closed the door on signing Iwakuma, under a reworked contract, but he instead opted quickly to return to the Mariners.

Dipoto moved quickly to acquire left-hander Wade Miley in a trade with the Red Sox the day after Iwakuma agreed to the Dodgers' deal and now has additional rotation depth. Seattle's rotation will now have Felix Hernandez, Miley, Taijuan Walker, Nathan Karns, James Paxton and Iwakuma battling for five spots, with Vidal Nuno available as a swingman and Mike Montgomery offering further depth.

Iwakuma posted a 9-5 record and 3.54 ERA in 20 starts last season. He missed 10 weeks with a strained lat muscle behind his right shoulder, but returned in early July and went 9-4 with a 3.10 ERA over his final 17 games, including a no-hitter against the Orioles on Aug. 12.

Video: [email protected]: Iwakuma pitches a no-hitter vs. Orioles

The 6-foot-3 right-hander has been a solid No. 2 starter behind Hernandez for the past four years, going 47-25 with a 3.17 ERA in 111 games.

Dipoto has been busy this offseason since replacing Jack Zduriencik, making nine trades, signing four new free agents and now bringing back two of the team's own free agents in outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and Iwakuma. The only unsigned free agent from last season's Mariners club is veteran left-handed reliever Joe Beimel.

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

Though he missed 11 weeks with a right lat injury and had a 5.22 ERA entering the All-Star break last season, Iwakuma reaffirmed his status as a reliable mixed-league starter in the second half (3.05 ERA). While Los Angeles would have provided a fine landing spot for the right-hander in terms of fantasy production, his final decision to remain in Seattle is also a desirable outcome. Iwakuma owns stellar lifetime marks (3.17 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) across four seasons with the Mariners, and mixed-league owners should expect him to be a viable No. 3 starter in 2016. Of course, the 34-year-old must prove he can avoid the disabled list following back-to-back sub-30-start seasons.  

Iwakuma's return to Seattle will create a rotation logjam that should catch the attention of fantasy owners. Nathan Karns, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton would each have mixed-league value if in possession of a rotation spot, but one of those three hurlers will likely begin the season in the bullpen or Triple-A if all six of Seattle's rotation hopefuls remain healthy.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Hisashi Iwakuma