Having already watched targets Lance Berkman and Adam Dunn head elsewhere, not to mention Adrian Beltre spurning a hefty offer to come to Oakland for a second straight year, the A's on Monday night announced that they could not reach a deal with Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who will return to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Pacific League.
"We would like to express our appreciation to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for the opportunity to negotiate with Mr. Iwakuma, and we regret that an agreement could not be reached by today's deadline," A's general manager Billy Beane said in a statement. "In this instance, the player was in a unique situation, being only one year away from free agency, and we fully respect and understand his position."
Thus, Oakland will get back its $19.1 million posting fee, which gave the club a 30-day negotiating period with the hurler. The result of Monday's deadline day, which came in the midst of the annual Winter Meetings, was more or less expected. Talks between the two sides stalled midway through the process by way of large financial differences, and they never appeared to amount to anything close to a done deal.
At one point during the negotiations, Iwakuma's agent, Don Nomura, suggested via his Twitter account that the A's had only placed a bid to block other teams, such as division foes Texas and Seattle, from landing the pitcher. Multiple media outlets subsequently proposed the same idea, but A's assistant general manager David Forst called the reports "entirely incorrect."
"This was a player we scouted in the World Baseball Classic in Japan this year," Forst said. "Our intentions were genuine from the beginning. To this day, we probably don't know all of the other bids and at what level they were at. This was about us wanting the player. There was no gamesmanship there."
Forst mentioned Beane spoke to Nomura on the phone about the Twitter comments in a light-hearted nature, and that they never affected discussions. Rather, failure to see eye to eye on salary figures proved to be the determining factor.
"The talks were very cordial," Forst said. "Don has a lot of experience in this market in general. Both sides were very anxious to get something done. We just ultimately couldn't find enough common ground to do it. More than anything, we're disappointed. We were excited we won the posting and were looking forward to the possibility of having Hisashi on our club."
Iwakuma and Nomura were reportedly asking for a contract that would average $12 million per season over three years -- numbers that reflect the earnings of fellow Japanese pitchers Hiroki Kuroda (three years, $35.3 million) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (six years, $52 million).
However, the A's were said to have offered $15.25 million over four years -- factoring in the posting fee cost -- as a "take it or leave it" approach. By leaving it, Iwakuma will stay in Japan and become a free agent at the end of the 2011 season -- a status which ultimately affected the process with Oakland.
"That was a legitimate point of conversation for him," Forst said. "Compared to Daisuke or some of the other guys who came over, he knew he only had to come back for one more year. Those other guys had two or three years and were in a different bargaining position. We understood that from the beginning. We knew it was going to be an obstacle we had to overcome if we were going to get something done."
Another roadblock came in the form of the posting fee, which Iwakuma believed shouldn't be included in his contract. The A's, on the other hand, thought otherwise after having laid out a specific budget for the entire process.
"It was our first time dealing within the structure of the posting process, and you find out quickly that people interpret it different ways," Forst said. "No fault to the player -- he doesn't consider the money paid for posting as part of his compensation. Obviously, from our standpoint, it's one package.
"Once we got down to the details in salary, we knew we were going to have a bridge to gap. We felt like both sides were motivated to do something. Once it came down to the details, we couldn't quite get there."
Still, Forst made it clear that, despite the results, the A's would not shy away from the same type of process in the future. Nor will Oakland discount Iwakuma when he becomes a free agent. In fact, the club relayed to Nomura that it would be interested in revisiting a contract at that time, hoping said interest is "mutual."
"It's not a perfect process, but it's obviously worked a number of times to have players come over here," Forst said. "If there was a player we liked, we certainly wouldn't hesitate to jump back in."
Now, the A's could potentially reach out to the open market for a fifth starter, a notion that was confirmed by Beane. They also already have several in-house candidates for the final rotation spot, including Tyson Ross, Josh Outman and Bobby Cramer.
The club is also presumably primed to use its remaining funds to bring in free agents in an ongoing effort to bolster the offense, making shopping for an extra pitcher a secondary priority. With Beltre out of the picture, the A's are destined to turn their focus toward other available hitters -- a group that could potentially include Hideki Matsui, Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Nick Johnson.