Hisashi Iwakuma cleared to resume throwing

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Hisashi Iwakuma has been sidelined for more than a month with a strained tendon in his middle finger, but the Mariners right-hander has been cleared to resume throwing after meeting with doctors.

Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that Iwakuma will start slow by throwing tennis balls Friday and then hopefully advance to baseballs early next week.

There’s zero chance for him to be ready for Opening Day and seemingly still a decent chance that Iwakuma will miss most and perhaps all of April, but for now the Mariners haven’t put forth an official return timetable.

His health is a huge factor in Seattle’s odds of contending this season, as Iwakuma emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball last year with a 2.66 ERA and 185/42 K/BB ratio in 220 innings spread over 33 starts.

Mike Napoli and Rays have “mutual interest” in a deal

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.

Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.

Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.