Hisashi Iwakuma (quietly) had a really great season

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Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma put the finishing touches on a fantastic season last night with eight shutout innings against the Royals, lowering his ERA to 2.66.

That ranks sixth among all qualified starters, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Bartolo Colon, and Anibal Sanchez. He also ranks fifth in innings with 219.2, trailing only James Shields among AL pitchers.

And while he’s hardly a household name, Iwakuma’s success dates back to last season. Seattle relegated Iwakuma to a mop up/long relief role to begin last season, but since moving into the rotation he has a 2.66 ERA in 49 starts.

Here’s where that ranks among all MLB starters with at least 200 innings since last year:

Clayton Kershaw     2.20
Matt Harvey         2.39
Kris Medlen         2.54
HISASHI IWAKUMA     2.66
Johnny Cueto        2.79

You’ll notice that Iwakuma is the only American Leaguer in the top five. David Price has the next-best ERA in the AL at 2.94. And in keeping with the underrated theme, Iwakuma is signed for just $6.5 million next season and the Mariners have a $7 million option on him for 2015.

The Nationals expect Bryce Harper to test free agency

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Earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, Scott Boras said that he and the Washington Nationals had had preliminary discussions about a contract extension for Bryce Harper. Harper, of course, can become a free agent following the 2018 season and is widely expected to command the largest contract in baseball history.

While that may have given some Nationals fans hope that no other team would get the chance to bid on him, the Nationals are of the view that they have no shot to sign Harper before he at least tests the free agent market. From USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:

A lot of this seems like mutual posturing, doesn’t it? Boras trying to make it appear as though the he and Harper are giving the Nats a fair hearing and the Nats trying to make it appear as though, no matter what they do, Harper is going to hit the market. I tend to believe, personally, that Boras and Harper are hellbent on testing the market, but it’s possible that there is some number that the Nats can offer to head that off, right? Maybe?

Either way: big year ahead for Harper.