Yusei Kikuchi will be posted tomorrow morning by the Seibu Lions. As Joel Sherman of The New York Post and MLB Network reports, teams have until January 2nd and 5pm ET to submit terms for a contract. He also notes that teams will have to pay a release fee. Neither of those things are unexpected.

The left handed pitcher has been among the best in Japan for the last handful of years. From 2012, when he was just 21-years-old, through this last season, he’s never posted an ERA higher than 3.54. Only once in that span was it higher than 3.10. In his eight seasons pitching for Seibu his career ERA is 2.81.

It’s been the last four seasons where Yusei Kikuchi has really stepped up, though. His strikeout rate has jumped up in those years. Over the last two years his walk rate has also made big improvements, going from questionable control to very good control. Everything, however, hasn’t been sunshine and roses for Kikuchi. He missed time in 2018 with a shoulder injury. And it wasn’t the first time he’s dealt with a shoulder issue in his career. To this point, though, he has not needed surgery.

When he’s been at his best, he throws a fastball in the 92-94 MPH range that can touch 98 on the best days. From the left side that stands out for starting pitchers in a big way. His slider is his best offering and is considered a plus pitch. He will also mix in a change up and a curveball.

In order to sign him, as noted above, a team has to agree to pay a release fee. That number is not set in stone. It depends on how much the contract is for. The Seibu Lions will receive 20% of the first $25M, then 17.5% of the next $25M, and 15% of anything beyond $50M. They will also get some percentage of any bonuses (signing bonus, awards bonus) that are included in the contract. This is all on top of the money that the team would pay to Yusei Kikuchi as salary. As an example, let’s say he signed a contract for $60M, then the signing team would have to pay a release fee of $10.875M to the Seibu Lions, as well as then pay all of the $60M salary to Kikuchi.

The Cincinnati Reds, of course, are on the market for starting pitching. Yusei Kikuchi is a bit of a wild card. The Reds have never had a Japanese player – they are the only Major League team that can say that. One reason for that is that they’ve stayed out of the market. When Walt Jocketty was the General Manager he was once quoted saying that it was too expensive. That began to change in recent years as the organization expanded their scouting department and put someone full time in Asia. And as we’ve seen this offseason, they seem to have money to spend with the names that they have been rumored to be interested in.

The shoulder issues have to be a little bit of a concern for teams. Yusei Kikuchi saw his velocity slide backwards in 2018. His slider was also a bit less sharp than it was the previous year. There’s plenty of upside with the move. If he’s healthy he should slide into just about any rotation and be at or near the top of it. But if the shoulder is going to be an issue moving forward, you could be looking at diminished stuff, or possibly even worse, long disabled list time.

Could it make sense for the Reds to bring in a guy like Yusei Kikuchi? Absolutely. But they need to be pretty confident that his shoulder is healthy again. The last thing the Reds need is spending a lot of money on a starting pitcher who can’t get out on the mound because he’s injured and there were signs that suggested that could be a possibility.

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Doug Gray is the owner and operator of this website and has been running it since 2006 in one variation or another. You can follow him on twitter @dougdirt24, or follow the site on Facebook. and Youtube.

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29 Responses

  1. AlphaZero

    My first tier of FA pitching targets is made up of Keuchel, Kikuchi (if fully healthy), and Morton, in that order. I am just assuming that they will be edged out of the market for Corbin and Eovaldi.

  2. Oldtimer

    Cincinnati doesn’t have a big Japanese cultural presence. That may not make a difference in this case but it can tilt the decision elsewhere.

  3. Stock

    Assuming he is healthy, I would absolutely go after him. He is was a better pitcher in 2017 than Ohtani. Ohtani was really good when healthy this year. I think he will be the best performing FA in 2019. I don’t think the Reds will pursue him seriously though.

  4. Justin

    Is there any general consensus for what sort of contract he’s looking at? It would be interesting to see if he would take a 2 year contract at a slightly higher per year amount. This would allow him to get to free agency at a relatively young age and put an MLB resume that might really push the $$ up. Also, am I wrong to think that a strategy like this would mean less money to the posting team?

    • redlegs4ever

      Like any other player Kikuchi is subject to MLB service time rules. Meaning he can’t become a Free Agent until he has 6.000+ years of service time. However they can come to a gentleman’s agreement that he will be released before then i.e Yoenis Cespedes.

      I would fully expect him to take a 6 year deal because teams will offer that to try to lock him in at a fixed price, and he would take it because of the already concerning shoulder.

  5. CP

    All comes down to risk, cost and reward. If the Reds have good reports on his health there could be an opportunity. How will the market respond to this guy? How much $$ will he demand. If they can get him for say 4-5 years under 20/mil a year he could be a good alternative to Dallas. This kid is much younger and has produced at a good level. If Dallas demands 5 years at 20 mil a year and this kid is 5 years at 15 mil a year that could be the better deal considering his age and price difference. Thoughts?

  6. Krozley

    I would guess something like 5 year, $50 million is the neighborhood for the base contract but, like with the Maeda deal with the Dodgers, there will probably be substantial workload bonuses on top of that to get to more like $15MM if he has a healthy year. He’ll probably be very effective when he pitches, but his virtually annual shoulder injuries would make it too much of a risk at that price for me.

  7. Doug Gray

    MLB Trade Rumors has their projection at 6-years and $42M.

    Kiley McDaniels at Fangraphs has his projection for 4-years and $40M.

    I think that I’m a buy at either of those prices. I’m willing to gamble there.

    • CP

      At that price absolutely! That price wouldn’t hamstring the budget and then they could still go after some bullpen help and maybe a CF.

    • redleggingfordayz

      I am definitely in at those dollar amounts. Obviously the shoulder issues are a big flag, but he could fit into that perfect sweet spot of risk\reward the Reds could use.

    • Tony

      I would pounce on either of those as well but I don’t think that will be enough to get it done. After paying Homer for all these years for almost no production this seems like the deal of the century.

  8. Colorado Red

    If healthy,
    It also depends on the cost.
    I would offer a 5/60 (total) contract.
    There would be another 11 mil in release fee, but I think it would be worth.
    Would not go much, if any, higher.

    • Colorado Red

      Seems a bit high, based on Doug’s note above.
      4/40 or even 5/50 would be cool.

  9. MK

    Too much risk with the Japanese pitchers as they are so overworked in their youth. It is Tommy John surgery pending starting the day they sign.

  10. Nep O'Tism

    When I read multiple shoulder issues in his career, FB/Slider (with some other mixed in), is it weird that it just screams to me that he’ll end up being a relief pitcher in the majors?

    He’ll be 28 and has only pitched 170 innings in a season once and 145 innings in a season twice (the last two years).

    I don’t know if at the age of 28 you can go from making 22-23 starts a year to 30-32 starts a year and not expect it to flare up preexisting shoulder issues.

    – – – – – – – –

    As much as I would like the Reds to finally get into the neglected Japanese talent pool (only MLB team to never have a Japanese player) I don’t know if that risk sounds worth it.

    Kuechel is expected to go for like $20m/yr, and I can’t help but think that it might be a case where it’s best to spend the extra money and get the surer bet if this guy’s expected to cost $10m/yr (plus another $7-8m or whatever as a posting fee, so roughly $12m/yr).

    • redlegs4ever

      Funny you say that because when I read Dougs write up it screamed skinny Brandon Finnegan.

      • The Rage

        I think he has physically peaked out which is why his slider began decaying last year. I suspect he just wants a pay day and then retire.

        I would rather resign Harvey and see what parts pieces the Indians would want for Kluber/Carassco, who I am sure they will deal one of them. Even if they have peaked, I could see them doing a good 175-190 innings for the next 2-3 years.

      • redlegs4ever

        I prefer Bauer from the Indians, and Syndergaard overall.

        Believe it or not I think those 2 come at the cheaper prospect commitment, and while health issues abound I think their 2 of the top 5 pitchers on the planet, certainly moving forward. You’re paying for what their gonna do not what they did.

        I don’t see Cookie moving, I think the Indians value him higher than the league, I fully expect Kluber to move. I feel the league overvalues Kluber and isn’t reading enough into his numbers away from the cozy AL Central and the other half dozen downtrodden AL teams. Playoff numbers have been abysmal and that’s what you’re paying an ace for right??

      • The Rage

        Syndergaard isn’t happening. The Mets are loading up. I doubt the Indians trade Bauer, as he is still pretty cheap after waiting for his development in years.

        Klubar or Carrasco, they really have to trade one, which will cut down what is needed to get.

  11. JoJo

    Has anyone actually saw this guy pitch? I don’t know how anyone could be for or against this signing, and for a certain amount of money. It would be nice to have a 27yr old lefty in the rotation of he’s good though.

  12. redlegs4ever

    Barring a very minimal guarantee overall I think this is a pass for me. Japanese pitchers seem to flame out fairly quick, and it looks like this one may already be starting.

    If they could somehow pay him like a 10 mil signing bonus then have him play for min, min, min, arb1, arb2, arb3 I would go for it, but I don’t think that’s how it works, and he will certainly get a better guarantee.

  13. Wes

    I think the market is gonna bottom out like last offseason and several quality players will sign for cheap. Reds will have their pick bc they will pay the most. Exclude Harper and Machado obviously and maybe Corbin. Rest of guys who haven’t signed are in for an uphill battle to get paid ! Great for reds !!

    I think they get Keuchel and pollock for way less than anyone projects while they both get paid way more by cincy than anyone offers.

  14. Datdudejs

    Personally, if I was in charge and I’m definitely not but I’d be interested in him but he wouldn’t be super high on my list of things to do and only if I had room financially after making my other moves

    I’d prefer they went after Harper myself, and made a few buy low trades like for Gray and Stroman, and maybe resign a guy like Harvey if he would sign for a cheap 1-2 year deal to show he’s healthy. Then at the deadline I’d see where we are at rotation wise and standings wise and possible go for a top of the rotation guy at that point

  15. Optimist

    Pass on the injury history alone, particularly if the market is sagging overall, and healthier, though lesser quality, is available. If they improve regardless, then the “prospects for higher quality/short-term rental” trading deadline decision looms.

  16. Scottya

    I’m trusting the Reds FO to do their homework on his shoulder issues and loss of velocity. The low AV of most foreign players mitigates the risk a lot.

    If Kikuchi is in the predicted range: MLB Trade Rumors has their projection at 6-years and $42M & or Kiley McDaniels at Fangraphs has his projection for 4-years and $40M. The Reds should go after him.

  17. AirborneJayJay

    A 6 year contract?????
    Heavens no.
    Like that robot on “Lost In Space” says, “Caution, Caution Will Smith”.