Relief Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma #18
30 years old; Experience: rookie (in the Japanese player way)
This year there was one major player coming from Japan, and then there was Hisashi Iwakuma, giving it the old college try. In 2010, Iwakuma tried to come over to the States. The Oakland Athletics won the bidding process but weren't able to agree on a contract in the 30 day timeline, so Iwakuma went back over to Japan. This time around, the Mariners pounced and signed him to a very team friendly $1.5 million contract laden with incentives.
Iwakuma isn't exactly going to turn a lot of heads like his fellow Japanese "rookie" Yu Darvish, but he should be pretty solid. Should is the key word here because at the beginning of Spring Training it seemed a foregone conclusion that Iwakuma would open the season in the rotation. The rotation spot was his to lose and he did that as Spring Training wore on. He lost that rotation spot to the likes of Blake Beavan, and unfortunate little tidbit because Blake Beavan isn't very good.
The plus of having Iwakuma in the bullpen is that assuming he isn't a total stinker, and not in the endearing way that you call your three year old niece a stinker, he should be able to burst right out of the bullpen into the starting rotation at the first sign of immediate trouble. Considering that the Mariners bullpen is King Felix, Jason Vargas, old man Millwood, the rookie Hector Noesi, and then - ugh - Blake Beavan, there is primo opportunity for Iwakuma to find himself starting a few games and reaching those incentives for a bigger payday.
I'm starting to tire of talking about how pitchers like Iwakuma will benefit by pitching at Safeco Field because pretty much all pitchers benefit by pitching at Safeco Field (except for Blake Beavan for reasons unknown to statistics and science). Injuries have taken a toll on Iwakuma's fastball and it now sits in the high 80s for the most part. Every now and then he can put the juice on it and hit the mid 90s. His out-pitch is his splitter which he often shoves down the throats (or the bats) of the opposing batters, generally resulting in a lot of groundouts. Assuming that the infield behind Iwakuma stays relatively decent defensively, then it goes that Iwakuma should put up pretty decent numbers for the Seattle Mariners at a rather cheap rate. He is a solid addition to the team that can hopefully also provide bizarre zen-Ichiro-like comments every now and then.