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The new market for Hisashi Iwakuma

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By waiting out the market, Hisashi Iwakuma's potential value has skyrocketed.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret the Mariners want to bring back Hisashi Iwakuma to bolster their shallow starting rotation and fill one of the bigger holes remaining on the roster. The dominoes have started to fall in the starting pitching market. In the past week, two of the largest free agent contracts ever handed out were signed and five of the biggest free agents find themselves very well compensated by new teams. These five contracts signify an extreme shift in the market’s valuation of starting pitching and will definitely have an effect on the value of Hisashi Iwakuma.

Many of us assumed the Mariners would be able to sign Iwakuma to a team-friendly contract that maybe included a hometown discount. I’ve seen projections ranging from 2–3 years and an average annual value between $14MM and $15MM. I don’t think those estimates are realistic anymore.

Of the remaining free agents on the market, Iwakuma is projected to accumulate the highest WAR total by Steamer in 2016—higher than Johnny Cueto, Wei-Yin Chen, and Scott Kazmir. Those three pitchers are all younger than Iwakuma and two of them don’t have a dreaded qualifying offer attached to their name, which should drive their value up. But the options are dwindling for teams looking to upgrade their pitching staff via free agency.

I wanted to take a quick look at the five pitchers who were signed this week and what their contracts might tell us about the way the market is valuing pitching. This will be a very simplified look at the estimated value of each of these pitchers. I’m assuming that the value of a win on the open market is $8MM with 5% inflation each year and am using a simple aging curve for the pitcher’s WAR total.

Name

Contract

Est. WAR

Est. Value

Est. $/WAR

Jordan Zimmerman

5yrs/$110m

7.5

$64.2

$14.7

David Price

7yrs/$217m

24.5

$221.6

$8.9

John Lackey

2yrs/$32m

4.5

$36.8

$7.1

Zack Greinke

6yrs/$206.5m

17.5

$154.6

$11.8

Jeff Samardzija

5yrs/$90m

9.0

$77.4

$10.0

Hisashi Iwakuma

??

8.0

$66.7

??

On average, these five pitchers are being paid around $10.5m per WAR over the life their contracts. John Lackey comes in with the lowest $/WAR but he’s also the oldest of the bunch and has a significant injury history. The first domino to fall, Jordan Zimmermann, actually has the highest $/WAR but the Tigers have a history of overpaying to satisfy Mike Ilitch’s World Series itch.

If we assume Hisashi Iwakuma is asking for three guaranteed years, and use the average $/WAR rate of these five contracts, we can estimate his average annual value to be around $28m per year! Of course, Iwakuma isn’t as young as some of these other pitchers and he also has a significant injury history as well. John Lackey is a much closer comparison to Iwakuma’s age and recent history. Applying Lackey’s $/WAR rate to Iwakuma’s estimated production over the next three years gives us an average annual value of $18.9m.

These are all rough, back-of-the-napkin calculations but they paint a clear enough picture—teams are willing to spend big bucks to add top pitchers to their rosters. The Mariners have probably missed their window to sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a team friendly contract. Considering the dwindling options remaining on the market and the price teams have been paying for pitching in the past week, he won’t come cheaply anymore. An average annual value of $15m represented a very steep discount for Iwakuma’s estimated production. Now that the market rate has been set and raised, the Mariners are going to have pony up to get their man.