The ascendant Toronto Blue Jays have added to their already impressive rotation. The club has agreed to a three-year, $36 million contract with free agent left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, according to multiple reports. He gets $16 million in 2022 and $10 million in both 2023 and 2024, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale. The team has not confirmed the signing.
Kikuchi, 30, became a free agent after declining a $13 million player option with the Seattle Mariners following last season. Seattle first declined a four-year club option worth $66 million, which then gave Kikuchi the player option. He declined the player option and bet on himself, and secured three times as much guaranteed money.
With the Mariners, Kikuchi ran very hot and cold the last three seasons, pitching like a bona fide ace at times and a guy who looked like he belonged in Triple-A at others. He was an All-Star last year thanks to a big first half, then pitched so poorly down the stretch that Seattle pulled him from the rotation in September, as the club was seeking its first postseason berth in a generation.
The Blue Jays have a track record of helping talented pitchers take their game to another level -- the best example is reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray -- and Kikuchi does have obvious arm talent. Harnessing it has been an issue, however. It also should be noted Kikuchi's spin rates dropped considerably following last year's foreign substance crackdown.
That said, Toronto doesn't need Kikuchi to be much more than a No. 4 or 5 starter. Their projected season-opening rotation looks something like this at the moment:
The Blue Jays went 91-71 and missed the postseason by one game last season. They went 25-10 in their final 35 games, the best record in the American League during that time. Ray and Marcus Semien left as free agents and Gausman was signed prior to the lockout, and there are indications the team isn't done. The Blue Jays could still bring in another infielder to replace Semien.