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Should the Mariners have traded Hisashi Iwakuma?

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It's kind of complicated.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Let's not bury the lede: The question as to whether the Mariners should have traded Hisashi Iwakuma is a complex, difficult one with overtones of legacy, injuries and a potential leadership change hanging over everything. It's unknown what *exactly* the Mariners could have received for Iwakuma, because we don't get to sit in the Mariners trade meetings. I prefer this actually; I imagine Jack fires pencils at people a lot and those can hurt.

Before we get to any half-hearted but made-to-sound-more-confident-than-I-feel conclusions, let's briefly outline some pros and cons here:

Reasons for trading Hisashi Iwakuma:

  • The Mariners are bad and not going to make the playoffs and thus should look to trade any player of value that is not already a sure-fire piece of the 2016 roster.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma is 34 and has dealt with injuries both throughout his career and recently the past two seasons.
  • This has led to Iwakuma's past calendar year being worth a scant 1.0 fWAR in only 117.2 IP. He hasn't pitched much, and has been a far cry from 2013 Iwakuma when he has. The odds are probably against him ever putting together a season similar to '13 again.
  • The market for pitching was very much to the advantage of the seller this year, with Cole Hamels, David Price and others fetching strong returns from teams using the 2nd Wild Card as impetus for keeping their hopes alive.
  • Since his return from injury on July 11, Iwakuma has flashed more of his better form. In 40 IP, Iwakuma has run a very Iwakuma-like 34/6 K/BB ratio with an ERA of 3.60. If you want to sell him harder, you can take off his first start off the DL and the four home runs he allowed to Detroit and you get even better numbers. Iwakuma has pitched into the 8th inning in three of his last five starts and has been arguably the team's best starter in the past month. He would certainly have value in trade.

Reasons to keep Hisashi Iwakuma

  • The Mariners are rightfully proud of their place in history as it concerns Japanese players in MLB. Since signing Ichiro in 2001, the team has never been without a Japanese player on their roster. Trading Iwakuma would be the end of that streak.

    Is this perfunctory, silly and a little weird? Yeah it is. But the franchise's ownership has deep connections to Japan and this is the reality in which we exist. I can understand why it's a factor, whether I think it should be or not.
  • There are very real reasons to believe that, barring an absolute miracle, Jack Zduriencik and a whole lot of other people are going to get fired after this season is over. While some viewed the Mariners trading at all at the deadline as a sign that Zduriencik's regime may still have life in it, it's telling that arguably the team's two most viable, realistic trade chips (Iwakuma and Austin Jackson) were not moved.

    We have 7 years of data now telling us that when it comes to making major roster decisions, the team can probably do better than let Jack Zduriencik be the one to make them. In the case of Iwakuma, Jeff Passan has already reported as such:


  • The 2016 Mariners are going to need starting pitching, and acquiring pitching in free agency is an expensive lottery ticket. While Iwakuma's health and effectiveness are always going to be less than a sure thing, particularly as he ages into and past his mid-30's, he has already shown a willingness to sign one team-friendly contract. While speculative, there is reason to believe that both the player and team ownership view him as a part of the 2016 team at this point.
  • When healthy, Hisashi Iwakuma is an above-average to excellent starting pitcher, something the Mariners have precious few of. Since signing with the Mariners in 2012, Iwakuma is the only Mariner pitcher other than Felix Hernandez to throw more than 500 innings. The same can be said for 400 innings. And for 300 innings. In fact, since 2012, the Mariners pitcher with the 3rd most innings pitched is Tom Wilhelmsen - a reliever.

    Despite the hype of prospects and the good fortune/quality scouting done to unearth Roenis Elias, this team's starting pitching remains perilously thin. It should not part with one of its best unless there is a concrete plan in place to replace him with a better/cheaper alternative. At this point I find that idea to be very unlikely, given the current state of things.
  • A common thought with pending free agent players at the trade deadline is "you can always just re-sign them after the season is over." While this is certainly true, it fails to account for the many outside factors that can occur. The player could fall in love with the pennant chase, his new hometown, his new teammates, etc. As practical an idea as it seems on paper, there are few instances that I can recall where this plan has actually worked out.
This is one of those "not sure how I feel about it until I write it down" kind of things. At the end of it I think I can say, barring a much higher return than I anticipate, that the Mariners holding onto Hisashi Iwakuma was the right decision. Quality starting pitching, even injury prone pitching, is a scarce commodity. When the entirety of the team's roster, barren farm system, and contracts are taken into account, the best thing both for the rest of 2015 and the 2016 season was to not trade Hisashi Iwakuma. Good job, people that tell Jack Zduriencik what to do.