Why Hisashi Iwakuma is the Perfect Fit for the Detroit Tigers


Maybe you’ve heard, but the Detroit Tigers rotation was awful last season.

That’s why it isn’t a shock that the team is looking for starting pitching. Per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, general manager Al Avila revealed that as of late the team “met mostly with agents of free agent pitchers.”

Generally, GMs team decision makers won’t publicly disclose a free agent target unless that player happened to play for them the season before. However, per MLB.com’s Jason Beck, Avila did reveal that the team is interested in the now-former Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

In a free agent market flush with quality starting pitching options, Iwakuma may be the best fit for Detroit’s rotation.

The 34-year-old has four years of big league experience with the Mariners. During those four years he racked up 47 wins while posting a collective 3.17 ERA. Perhaps his best season came in 2013 when the right hander put up a 2.66 ERA, 14 wins and 185 strikeouts in 219.2 innings pitched. For his efforts he earned a spot at the All Star Game while finishing third in the American League Cy Young voting and 19th in AL MVP voting.

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Iwakuma has made 48 starts since, and while his 2015 was plagued by injury and inconsistency, he still recovered to post a respectable 3.54 ERA in 20 starts (129.2 innings). The current free agent also posted excellent numbers in terms of strikeouts and walks. While he won’t rack up punch outs like Justin Verlander, he did fan 111 batters last season compared to only 21 walks. Over the past two seasons, he has 265 strikeouts compared to just 42 walks.

Not only would “Kuma” fit with the team thanks to his pitching ability, his salary likely wouldn’t break the bank.

Sep 27, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (18) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If the righty hit free agency after 2013, he likely would have commanded a four or five year contract in the $80-$100 million range. Those numbers are speculative, but Iwakuma was just that good.

He clearly hasn’t regressed thanks to a strong second half (3.05 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 100.1 innings), but he will be 35 in mid-April. This means a much shorter contract than the likes of David Price, Zack Greinke, or even a second-tier starter like Mike Leake. Two to three years probably isn’t out of the question.

No team, even one as pitching starved as the Tigers, is going to overpay for a soon-to-be 35-year-old. MLBTradeRumors.com predicts a three-year, $45 million contract, which seems about right.

The starter was offered a qualifying offer by the Mariners, so he will cost a draft pick. However, because the Tigers’ first-round pick is protected, the price wouldn’t be as steep.

If Detroit is able to sign Iwakuma to a contract that won’t constrict the team, it will be a definite win for the Tigers.

It doesn’t hurt that Hisashi Iwakuma owns a 1.20 ERA at Comerica Park.