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.