UPDATE (8:34 PM): The A's sent in the highest bid and have won the rights to negotiate a contract with Hisashi Iwakuma.
Billy Beane always leaves me shaking my head and smiling. Even when he misses (Carlos Gonzalez), the unexpected move he made has had me thinking, "Wow, where did that come from?" It seems he may be close to doing it again (head shaking smile, not trading Carlos Gonzalez).
Hisashi Iwakuma first caught the attention of folks in the US with a crafty performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. I remember, specifically, the way he maneuvered through a Cuba team that was really, really good. He is not a dominating fireballer, throwing a fastball that is around 90 MPH, though he has managed to strike out more than 3 batters for every walk he has issued over the course of his 10 year career in Japan. He has been better than that in 3 of the last 4 seasons and his 4.25 K/BB last season would have been the best among A's starters, by a lot.
Even if we can't confirm that the A's have made a strong play for Iwakuma, it makes sense that the A's would be going this route. First, they have been beating the "International Scouting" drum for a while. Second, they have something like $20M coming off the books this offseason. Third, they have several young players that will require pay raises in the coming seasons. Combine the second and third point with the fact that they have no way of knowing when their long term revenue situation might stabilize and it is clear to see that signing the Japanese pitcher to a relatively cost controlled 3-5 year deal, with a $16M posting fee, is a better play than spending $120M on Jayson Werth or trying to outbid the Angels, or Red Sox, for Carl Crawford.
Scouting reports on the 29 year old pitcher seem to indicate that he is able to accomplish his outstanding K/BB (4.25 would have been 4th amongst qualified MLB starters this past season) due to an ability to throw four plus pitches for strikes. Scouting reports also indicated that Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu were the equal of Bob Gibson and Warren Spahn, or something. Even so, I am smiling at the thought of Iwakuma coming to Oakland. It tells me that the A's have a plan. In this case I would call it Operation Spend a Large Chunk of the Money Coming Off the Books on a Posting Fee for a Guy Who Can Improve the Rotation for the Next 3-4 Seasons and Trade to Upgrade the Offense. As Yoda might say, "Always focused on the big picture, Billy is."
Ken Rosenthal speculates that the A's might be looking to sign Iwakuma and trade a guy like Vin Mazzaro for a guy like Casey McGehee. Or he may have speculated that specific deal. Personally, I am not so sure that Billy Beane would be looking for that deal. McGehee was more valuable than Kouzmanoff last season (3.5 WAR v 2.9) but he is only one year younger than Kouz and he has only had one season where he was better than Kouzmanoff. McGehee's value was strictly on offense, Beane seems to prefer defensive value when given an either/or choice, and he played in the National League. I'd venture the better bet is that Kouzmanoff's value last season is more or less what can be expected, while McGehee can be expected to regress to something more like Kouzmanoff's.
Even if the deal is McGehee and Iwakuma at the cost of Kouzmanoff and Mazzaro, and nothing more, I like it. I expect something more, but I like Iwakuma as a start. Then again, it might end up being none of this. Iwakuma's team could accept a different bid. If they select the A's, Iwakuma may be looking for more than the A's offer and he can go back to Japan for a season and be free to sign with any team he chooses in a year. I am confident, even if it isn't this, there will be more head shaking and smiling over the next few months.
Random tidbits below the fold...
- I don't think anyone thought he would be penciled in as "headed for Oakland" based on his AFL numbers alone, but if they did... Don't look now, Michael Taylor is proving he needs at least another season in Sacramento. After starting off hot, he has seen his average dip to .217 and his Slugging Percentage drop to .362.
- Speaking of 2011 Rivercats, the A's signed Willie Eyre and Travis Blackley to minor league deals this week. Blackley has some pretty good estadisticas por los Naranjeros de Hermoillo of the Mexican Winter League.
- Through the magic of "Ranked Choice Voting," Oakland may have Jean Quan for a Mayor. She has signaled support for a ballpark at Victory Court, near Jack London Square.
Have good Sunday all...