Mariners agree to four-year deal with Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi
Kikuchi instantly becomes one of the centerpieces of Seattle's rebuild
The Seattle Mariners have spent much of the offseason tearing down their big-league roster, and now they've spent some money to secure a centerpiece for the future. Monday night the Mariners agreed to a contract with Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. The four-year deal was made official Wednesday.
The Seibu Lions, Kikuchi's former team in Japan, posted Kikuchi for MLB teams in early December. His 30-day window to negotiate a contract expired at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, which is almost exactly when the Mariners announced the deal.
Kikuchi, 27, has been one of the best pitchers in Japan the last few years. He threw 163 2/3 innings with a 3.08 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 2018, and, over the last three years, he owns a 2.51 ERA in 494 1/3 innings. Unlike his countryman Shohei Ohtani, Kikuchi is a pitcher only. You won't see him at DH between starts. .
The Mariners of course have a very rich history with Japanese players. They initially signed future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki back in 2001 and also employed other notable Japanese players such as Kenji Johjima and Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle has a large Japanese community and travel from Seattle to Japan is as easy as it's going to get from the continental United States.
Although the Mariners have taken a step back and started a rebuild this offseason, Kikuchi is young enough to be part of the team's next contending core, and he does help advance the rebuild forward. Seattle's projected Opening Day rotation depth chart now looks something like this:
- Felix Hernandez
- Yusei Kikuchi
- Mike Leake
- Marco Gonzales
- Wade LeBlanc
- Roenis Elias
- Justus Sheffield
- Erik Swanson
Sheffield and Swanson were acquired from the Yankees in the James Paxton trade earlier this winter. It's possible the Mariners will move Leake (or even LeBlanc) in another veteran-for-prospects trade at some point before Opening Day. Hernandez is unmovable given his contract and decline, and GM Jerry Dipoto is on record saying he wants to build around Gonzales. Kikuchi and LeBlanc were briefly teammates with Seibu in 2015.
Because Kikuchi had to be posted by the Lions -- he was not yet eligible for international free agency in Japan -- the Mariners will have to pay Seibu a release fee. Under the current posting agreement, the release fee is a percentage of Kikuchi's contract as determined by the following formula:
- Contract worth $25 million or less: 20 percent of total guarantee
- Contract worth $25 million and $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5 percent of amount over $25 million
- Contract worth $50 million: $9.375 million plus 15 percent of amount over $50 million
Kikuchi has been in Los Angeles meeting with teams over the last few weeks. He did visit Seattle to meet with the Mariners and it's unclear whether he traveled to any other cities. The Padres and Dodgers were reportedly among Kikuchi's other top suitors.
The Mariners are scheduled to open the 2019 regular season with a two-series against the Athletics at the Tokyo Dome on March 20 and 21, so it is very possible Kikuchi will make his first start with the team in Japan.
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