In the wake of Zack Greinke signing a mega-contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Dodgers went out Sunday and signed free-agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year, $45 million dollar contract. While the deal has yet to be officially announced by the ball club, it is all but set in stone that Iwakuma will be taking his talents to the reigning NL West champions. It has been a strange offseason for the Dodgers, who were outbid by the smaller market Diamondbacks for their former “number two” pitcher, and are currently still discussing internally whether or not to bring Aroldis Chapman on board, regardless of the recent domestic violence reports. It was surprising, to say the least, to see the Dodgers get outbid by a team that that had payroll that was nearly a third of the size of theirs. Well, meet Hisashi Iwakuma, the (current) replacement for Zack Greinke.
Why the Dodgers signed Hisashi Iwakuma
The Dodgers entered the offseason with many question marks facing their team, particularly in the starting rotation. First things first, they have the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw taking the ball every fifth day; so that’s a good thing. Then, you have… you have…. yup. Prior to signing Iwakuma, the Dodgers had three healthy pitchers on their roster who could fill into the rotation; Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, and Brett Anderson. After having a fantastic 2014 campaign, Wood regressed in 2015 and was traded to LA prior to the deadline. After his arrival, Wood struggled to find his 2014 form, posting a 4.35 ERA across 70.1 frames, fanning just 49 batters while walking 23. Then, there’s Brett Anderson, who accepted his qualifying offer at the beginning of the offseason and will spend at least one more season in a Dodgers’ uniform. Anderson has good stuff, and if he can stay healthy, he will be worth the $15.8 million dollars that he’s being paid this upcoming season. However, Anderson has struggled throughout his entire career with health issues, which is why 27-year-old likely took the QO, as he will look to build off a successful 2015 season and set himself up for a nice payday once he hits the free agent market next offseason. That being said, last year was the first season that Anderson was able to eclipse 100 innings since he did so in 2010 (he threw a career-high 180.1 innings), so he isn’t a safe bet to repeat his 2015 success.
In steps Hisashi Iwakuma, who finished third in the CY Young voting in 2013 and posted a respectable 3.54 ERA last season across 129.2 innings for the Seattle Mariners. The Dodgers are betting on Iwakuma to be more like his 2013/2014 self rather than his 2015 form, which was riddled by nagging injuries throughout the season. That is no safe bet, however, as Iwakuma is already 34 years of age and likely past the prime of his career. This is the age where we start to see pitchers regress, rather than post career numbers. Regardless, the Dodgers have been vocal this offseason with their goal to shed payroll, and paying Iwakuma $45 million dollars over three years rather than giving Greinke north of $200 million reflects just that. The Dodgers had to give up their first round pick as well to sign Iwakuma, though that doesn’t matter much to them, as they will receive a draft pick for Greinke, as well as free agent second baseman Howie Kendrick, presuming they don’t end up bringing him back. Iwakuma will be switching from Safeco Park, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, to Dodger Stadium, another nice park to play in if you’re a pitcher. Safeco suppresses home runs much better than Dodger Stadium, though the change shouldn’t be too drastic for Iwakuma. While he is no where near the pitcher than Greinke is, Iwakuma will serve as an innings eater for the Dodgers who need plenty of rotation depth behind Clayton Kershaw. There is one thing that stands out to me about this entire thing: the Dodgers were unwilling to go for a sixth year on Greinke, which would have paid him until his age 37 season. Those very same Dodgers were willing to hand Iwakuma a deal that pays him through his age 37 season.
What this deal means for you
If you’re an Iwakuma owner, the change in scenery doesn’t mean a whole lot when you talk about run production. The Dodgers and Mariners ranked 29th and 21st in baseball, respectively, in runs scored in 2015. The Dodgers will likely be in the thick of things again in the NL West, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Iwakuma to rack up the wins in LA. If there is someone in your league that is higher on Iwakuma than you are, sell. I see him being solid in Los Angeles, though I don’t expect him to be anything special. I believe that we are already seeing regression from Iwakuma in his stuff, and I won’t be surprised to see him post similar, if not slightly worse numbers than his 2015 line. Steamer projects Iwakuma to log a 3.39 ERA in 178 innings with 150 strikeouts in 2016, which is much more optimistic than I am on him. Hopefully the lat injury that lingered throughout 2015 is behind him and he’s ready to step in and make a difference in the Dodgers’ rotation. For now, Iwakuma seems to be the #2 option in the rotation for LA, though they have been linked to Johnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez this offseason, among others.