Two months ago Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma was said to be interested in leaving the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for MLB and now the Kyoda News reports that he’s officially been “posted” as an available player.
According to the report, MLB teams “will have until Friday to submit sealed bids and the highest paying club will win the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with the player, upon approval of the price by his Japanese club.”
In other words, Iwakuma could shake up the offseason market before free agency even officially begins.
Iwakuma is a 29-year-old right-hander with a 2.81 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 201 innings this season. His best year came in 2008, when he went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA to win the Pacific League MVP. He’s considered by many to be the second-best pitcher in Japan behind phenom Yu Darvish and multiple teams figure to submit a bid of at least $10 million for the exclusive negotiating rights, particularly since the free agent market for starters is underwhelming beyond Cliff Lee.
When he was pitching for Japan in the World Baseball Classic last year one AL scout called Iwakuma “very impressive across the board” and told Baseball America that he “would step into any rotation in the majors right now” and “might be the No. 1 [starter] for half the teams in the majors.”
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.