The Oakland Athletics are all over the place this winter, from Lance Berkman to Adrian Beltre to Adam Dunn (before the White Sox closed the deal Thursday). But the one target with an increasingly urgent deadline is Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
The A's won exclusive bidding rights to Iwakuma, but that window closes Tuesday. Negotiations between Oakland and the right-hander stalled a couple of weeks ago, and if the two sides don't reach an agreement, then Iwakuma's only choice is to return to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.
The A's have been library-quiet about the talks. With the clock ticking, one director of international scouting for a rival club expects the two sides to hammer out an agreement in the end.
"It's hard for me to see how Japan saves face if he goes back to Japan," said the scout, who has spent significant time in that country. "If he goes back to Japan, it will be an embarrassment to the team."
Iwakuma, 29, is not eligible for free agency in Japan until after the 2011 season, but Rakuten allowed him to be put up for bid to United States teams this winter.
The Athletics won exclusive negotiating rights with a $19.1 million bid. If Iwakuma signs, Rakuten receives the posting fee.
Iwakuma is said to be looking for $12 to $13 million annually in salary. Japanese media reported last month that the Athletics offered $15.25 million over four years. That's roughly the equivalent to what Iwakuma earned in salary with the Golden Eagles.
To play in the majors with Oakland, Iwakuma most likely is going to have to accept that his base salary will be lower than he wants because the A's will average the posting bid over the length of the contract as well, much like Boston did in signing Daisuke Matsuzaka to an overall deal of $103.1 million in 2006.
Then, the Red Sox paid a $51.1 posting fee and then agreed to a six-year, $52 million deal.
Spread over six years, the total of $103.1 million cost the Red Sox an average of just over $17 million annually, including the posting fee.
"He's good," the scout said of Iwakuma, who went 10-9 with a 2.82 ERA in 28 games in 2010 and is 101-62 with a 3.32 ERA over 10 professional seasons in Japan, with 46 complete games in 209 appearances. "I think he'll pitch a lot better than some guys who recently have come over.
Iwakuma does not compare to Matsuzaka because their syles are so different.
"Daisuke wants to throw all of his pitches," the scout said. "Iwakuma is a sinker-slider guy. Daisuke is a high-count guy. Iwakuma is a lower-count guy.
"I think it will get done with Oakland in the end, but who knows?"