Hisashi Iwakuma returns to Seattle as Dodgers' bad off-season gets worse
A week and a half after he reportedly came to terms on a three-year, $45 million contract with the Dodgers, Hisashi Iwakuma has instead returned to the Mariners on a one-year deal with a pair of vesting options. That follows reports that Iwakuma failed his physical with Los Angeles, prompting them to attempt to renegotiate his contract. There has been no word regarding exactly what concerns were raised by Iwakuma’s physical, nor do we yet know the dollar amounts involved in his new contract, but his return to Seattle is indeed official, leaving the Dodgers once again in the lurch.
Iwakuma has proven fragile over the last two years. In 2014, he didn’t make his regular season debut until May after straining a tendon in his middle finger during spring training. This past season, he missed all of May and June due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle and threw just 129 2/3 innings over 20 starts on the season. He is also prone to developing blisters when throwing his split-finger fastball, which is his best pitch, and he will turn 35 in April. That combination of age and injury made him a poor choice for Los Angeles, which lacks a sure thing in its rotation behind ace Clayton Kershaw. But since Seattle has already added Wade Miley and Nate Karns through trades to a rotation that already featured Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Mariners will be far less dependent upon Iwakuma than the Dodgers would have been.
In fact, the retention of Iwakuma—who likely had a physical at the end of the regular season and was extended a qualifying offer in early November—could enable Seattle to make yet another trade, dealing one of its six projected starters for upgrades in the outfield or the bullpen. The team's 40-man roster also includes potential rotation depth in the form of Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuño and recent waiver-wire addition A.J. Schugel.
As for the Dodgers, they are quickly running out of options for their 2016 rotation. With Brandon McCarthy not expected to return from his Tommy John rehab until midseason, the top four men in L.A.’s Opening Day rotation are Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu (assuming he can remain on schedule in his return from shoulder surgery), the fragile Brett Anderson and Alex Wood. The fifth starter would then come from a group that includes Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, new addition Frankie Montas and perhaps Joe Wieland and Zach Lee. Should Ryu not be ready or Anderson fall prey to injury once again, the Dodgers could need as many as three men from that last group to join Kershaw and Wood in their rotation.
Certainly, Los Angeles can be expected to make some sort of move to bolster its starting five, but the club's options are increasingly limited. Earlier this week, I wrote about the five best free-agent starters remaining on the market, and there’s not a clear No. 2 pitcher among them. Signing Wei-Yin Chen or Scott Kazmir would give the Dodgers an entirely lefthanded rotation with Kershaw, Ryu, Anderson and Wood, which could be a problem given that the best opposing hitters in the National League West are righthanded (Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock; San Francisco's Buster Posey and Hunter Pence). Mike Leake is young—he turned 28 last month—but he is little more than a league-average starter. Japanese righty Kenta Maeda is an interesting option, but he won’t come cheaply given that the team that signs him will have to pay a posting fee of close to $20 million to separate him from his contract with the Hiroshima Carp, and he’s no more of a sure thing than anyone else in L.A.'s current projected rotation.
The Dodgers could also attempt to trade for a rotation upgrade. (Hey, didn’t we just say that Seattle has an extra starting pitcher and a need for outfield and bullpen help?) The team certainly has outfielders to spare: Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Kiké Hernandez and recent addition Trayce Thompson are all projected to make the 25-man roster. The Mariners are well-stocked on lefties but could be interested in a righty such as Van Slyke or Thompson; any team would benefit from having Hernandez’s defensive flexibility; and a blockbuster Puig deal is always a subject of intrigue. Barring that, packaging a righty outfielder and a reliever—Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia or Chris Hatcher come to mind—could net a starter from Seattle. The cross-town Angels are in even greater need of swapping an extraneous starter for a bat, ideally in the outfield. In both cases, the Dodgers again run the risk of an all-lefty rotation (Paxton and C.J. Wilson are the starters most often rumored to be on the block for Seattle and the other Los Angeles, respectively).
The most recent rumors regarding the Dodgers and a potential trade for a starting pitcher, meanwhile, have focused on the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez and the Rays’ Jake Odorizzi. The former seems extremely unlikely: Miami's reported asking price for Fernandez was Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager, top prospect Julio Urias “and two more,” a flatly absurd request. The price for Odorizzi is likely to be more realistic but could still be very high: He has four team-controlled seasons remaining and won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season, making him a tremendously valuable piece for cash-strapped Tampa Bay.
Nonetheless, with Zack Greinke moving to the Diamondbacks and the Giants reloading with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, Los Angeles is clearly at risk of falling behind both teams in their division in the coming year if the team doesn’t make a significant addition to its rotation. The Dodgers’ off-season has been a disaster thus far: In the span of two weeks, they had Greinke snatched from their clutches by a division rival when they were reportedly minutes away from re-signing him, then had the additions of both Aroldis Chapman and Iwakuma blow up in their faces. As a result, all L.A. has to show for its winter efforts to this point are one-year reunions with Anderson (who accepted his qualifying offer) and 37-year-old second baseman Chase Utley, as well as a pair of waiver claims and the prospect swap from Wednesday’s Todd Frazier trade, its end of which has received mixed reviews (with mine being among the negative ones).
With Seager and Pederson still working to establish themselves in the lineup, Ryu and McCarthy coming back from major arm surgeries and Urias hoping to break into the major league rotation at some point during the season, the Dodgers increasingly appear to be heading toward a transition year in 2016. It could take a blockbuster trade to alter that perception.