The list of potential free-agent pitchers this winter is uninspiring, topped by Cliff Lee but without much depth, or quality, beneath. Ted Lilly's a solid...

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The list of potential free-agent pitchers this winter is uninspiring, topped by Cliff Lee but without much depth, or quality, beneath.

Ted Lilly’s a solid pitcher, and Jorge de la Rosa is intriguing. Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano, Brandon Webb and Brad Penny have all had their moments, but all have their issues, too.

Many major-league teams seeking pitching help will no doubt give a long look to the latest Japanese hurler to hit the market, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.

Iwakuma, 29, is considered the second-best pitcher in Japan, behind the celebrated Yu Darvish, who will likely cause an even bigger splash than Daisuke Matsuzaka when he becomes available.

There have been several reports recently that Darvish will be “posted” by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, in November. However, I’m told by those with knowledge of Japanese baseball that Darvish will probably not be posted this winter and perhaps not until after the 2012 season, when he will be months away from free agency.

A quick refresher: The posting system is the method by which Japanese teams can make players available for MLB before becoming free agents (which takes nine seasons in Japan). When a player is posted, all major-league teams can submit a blind bid, with the highest getting negotiating rights to the player.

It is the system by which the Mariners got the rights to Ichiro (for $13.1 million before the 2001 season), and by which the Red Sox got the rights to Matsuzaka (for $51 million before the 2007 season).

Iwakuma, who will be posted in November by the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, according to recent press reports out of Japan, is coming off a 10-9 season with a 2.82 earned-run average. He made 28 starts and had 153 strikeouts in 201 innings.

Iwakuma is 101-62 in his career and won the Sawamura Award, the equivalent of the Cy Young, in 2008, when he was 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA. He was also named the Pacific League’s Most Valuable Player.

His posting fee is likely to be more in line with that of Kei Igawa ($26 million from the Yankees before 2007). Of course, once a team wins the posting rights, it still has to negotiate a contract. Igawa got a five-year, $20 million deal with the Yankees and thus far has been a total bust (2-4, 6.66 ERA in 16 games, and has been in the minors the past two seasons).

I contacted the Daily Yomiuri’s Jim Allen, a veteran reporter of Japanese baseball, to get a scouting report on Iwakuma.

“Iwakuma has a wicked slider and a superb forkball that he backs up with a passable fastball,” Allen replied via e-mail. “He has good command. His manager last year, Marty Brown, told me his weakness is that he works slowly and sometimes gets away from his strength — getting ground balls — because he can make batters miss. When he does that, however, he runs high pitch counts.”

In a story in the Daily Yomiuri, Brown gave Allen a more detailed assessment: “It all depends on whether he can stay healthy on four days’ rest. All the pitchers who go over there have to adjust from the very beginning. They have to change their game somewhat because the (major-league) lineups are so strong all the way through. He can’t go full counts on everyone and expect to complete games. But he’s got a good sinker and can get a lot of ground-ball outs.”

Could Iwakuma fit into the Mariners’ plans? Considering their Japanese ownership, it’s always a possibility, though the M’s haven’t signed a pitcher out of Japan since Kazu Sasaki in 2000.

Beyond Seattle’s obvious need for offensive help, it appears to have one open rotation spot to fill.

That assumes that Jason Vargas, Doug Fister and rookie Michael Pineda join Felix Hernandez among the starting five, which is how it’s penciled in right now.

Hisashi Iwakuma is a name to tuck away.

Notes and quotes

• Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills was one of the finalists for the Mariners’ managerial job when they hired Don Wakamatsu before the 2009 season. Mills landed the Astros’ job in 2010 and earned high marks for keeping them together through an 0-8 start that stretched to 16-33 in late May.

From that point on, the Astros went 60-50 to finish 76-83, and Mills was rewarded Friday. His 2011 option was picked up, and a 2012 option added.

“I’ve hired my last manager,” Houston general manager Ed Wade told reporters.

• The Red Sox still have two coaches and a minor-league manager who will get managerial interest this winter: bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was also a Seattle finalist; pitching coach John Farrell, who has turned down overtures from the Mariners and other teams in the past but is now said to be open to pursuing a job; and Class AAA manager Torey Lovullo.

• Former Mariners manager Bob Melvin is emerging as a top candidate to replace the fired Ken Macha in Milwaukee. And another former M’s manager, Wakamatsu, got an interview with the Cubs.

• The Pirates will interview former Cleveland manager Eric Wedge and former Arizona third-base coach Bo Porter for their managerial opening. One interesting name being linked to the job, which opened when John Russell was fired following a 57-105 season, is former Pirates outfielder Andy Van Slyke.

• One name to consider for managerial openings is Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, whose stint as Pirates manager, which included seasons of 75, 75 and 72 wins, isn’t looking too bad in retrospect. McClendon has a friendship with Jack Zduriencik from his playing days with the Pirates.

• In the least surprising development of the offseason, the Cardinals waited a mere two days before officially triggering the option for the final year of Albert Pujols‘ contract.

Pujols will earn $16 million in 2011, but St. Louis will spend the winter in negotiations on a long-term extension. It will get done, for a staggering amount, because the Cardinals have no other choice.

• The Angels are doing some housecleaning. They’ve fired scouting director Eddie Bane as well as four scouts. One of the dismissed scouts is Dale Sutherland, who had been with the team more than 20 years and is the brother of Gary Sutherland, who remains a special assistant to GM Tony Reagins. The Angels also let go their head trainer, Ned Bergert, who had been in the organization for 36 years.

There’s a chance the Angels may also lose Mike Scioscia‘s bench coach, Ron Roenicke, who will interview for the Blue Jays’ managerial position and could be in line for other jobs. He interviewed for the Mariners job when they hired Melvin.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or