Masahiro Tanaka is one of top available free agent pitchers this offseason. In spite of some scouts thinking he may not be as good as Darvish, he may get a more lucrative contract. Darvish has been the best Japanese MLB pitcher since Hideo Nomo. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who got off to a very good start after he signed with the Boston Red Sox, has struggled to live up to the hype in spite of finishing 2013 pitching well for the Mets. One thing the other four pitchers had in common were the fact that they will all sign very lucrative contracts before ever pitching in a MLB game. The same cannot be said about Iwakuma, who signed a 1 year, $1.5 million contract to pitch for the Mariners in 2012.
One of the drawbacks from signing Iwakuma could have been the fact that he was 31 years old when he made his MLB debut in 2012. However, he was and is as beloved in Japan as any of the other pitchers mentioned. In fact, after being placed on the posting system by his Japanese team after the 2010 season, Iwakuma was offered a 4 year, $15,250,000 deal by the Oakland Athletics, the team that won the bid on his rights. Had he chosen to sign with the A's, he would have made his MLB debut at age 29 and would still be on that contract going into 2014.
Iwakuma's numbers in Japan were as solid as any of the other pitchers. In his first season with Seattle, he went 9-5, 3.16 in 30 games, 16 starts, striking out 101 batters in 125 1/3 innings. The Mariners rewarded him with a 2 year, $14 million contract extension right after the season before he was eligible for free agency. Iwakuma finished the 2013 season with a lower ERA than Darvish (2.83) and pitched more innings than him as well (219 2/3-209 2/3). However, Darvish was clearly more dominant, finishing with a league leading 277 Ks, to go along with having the fewest hits per 9 IP (6.2) and the most Ks per 9 IP (11.9).
Coming into the 2014 season it will be very interesting to see if Iwakuma can continue to pitch as well as he did in 2013. He entered the team's starting rotation before the All Star break in 2012 and had a very good second half. He carried that over into 2013 and had a stellar season. If his last 3 starts of 2013 are an indication of how good Iwakuma will be in 2014 (23 IP, 0 ER, 11 H, 5 BB), the Mariners could have as good a 1-2 punch as any team in the American League. I actually think Iwakuma could be even better in 2014 than he was in 2013.