After the Oakland A’s were the announced winner to the bidding rights for 29-year-old Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma , Joe Christensen reported that the Twins had actually submitted a bid for the starter as well:
“The Twins made a bid to sign Japanese starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, General Manager Bill Smith said today, but according to FoxSports.com, the winning bid went to Oakland.”
This is now the Twins’ second attempt to extract a pitcher from the Japanese leagues. A year ago, the team tried unsuccessfully to sign Colby Lewis to a two-year deal after Lewis tore through the Far East competition. Lewis ultimately decided to sign with the team that drafted him, the Texas Rangers, and helped lead the team into their first World Series appearance in franchise history.
Had Lewis opted to sign with Minnesota over Texas, this signing would have proven to be quite fruitful for the Twins. In spite of a 12-13 record, Lewis threw 201 innings while posting a 196/65 K/BB ratio and a 3.93 xFIP. Furthermore, Lewis would have been locked down through the 2011 season ($3 million) and a reasonable option for a third year ($3.25 million in 2012), negating the need to haggle over the status of Carl Pavano or pursuing other free agent options.
Iwakuma, like Lewis, has a lot of traits that the Twins covet that plays to their current strengths. For those that witnessed his performance in the World Baseball Classic, viewers were subjected to a pitcher that threw a fastball/sinker just 32% of the time in his outings according to Josh Kalk’s scouting report. Instead, he relied heavily on a splitter/slider combination. This pace is questionable for a major league pitcher (the least amount of fastballs thrown was by Toronto’s Shaun Marcum who threw it 45% of the time), but this method incited tons of groundouts for Iwakuma. From the video here, you can see that Iwakuma has excellent downward motion in his movement, living at the bottom of the zone. With a potentially strong infield defense in 2011 (assuming that J.J. Hardy is retained), a groundball-oriented pitcher would be preferable.
What is interesting about this revelation is that the Twins may have had to bid upwards of $10 million or more to the Rakuten Golden Eagles to simply obtain the rights to negotiate with Iwakuma’s agent. It probably would have cost another $10 million in order to sign him to a contract. This means the organization figures to have up to $15 million available for the 2011 season – an amount they would have been willing to dedicate to one player.
As noted above, Iwakuma possesses numerous qualities that the team values and like Lewis last season, the Twins may have wound up with a great part for a reduced price than if they were attempting to purchase it on the free agent market. Considering that after Cliff Lee, the free market is a mish-mash of hodge-podge. Even Jorge De La Rosa, by most accounts the second-best free agent starter, figures to have some warts as he has yet to make an entire season’s worth of starts and is expecting a four-year deal. As good as Carl Pavano’s been, he’s turning 35 in January and may want to start discussing a multi-year deal. Clearly, the Twins tried to solve the problem without having to break the bank or trade off prized prospects.