The New York Yankees struggled in 2018 with their pitching rotation; lacking consistency and efficiency when going into their starting depth. Moving forward, they will look to bolster the unit exponentially through free agency and possibly the trade market. The Yanks have already added James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners for top prospect Justus Sheffield. They were reported to be in on All-Star left-hander Patrick Corbin, but he would end up signing a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals.
With Corbin out of the picture, GM Brian Cashman will need to look elsewhere to get that second pitcher to help bolster the rotation, as well as acquire two arms in the bullpen. One possible solution could come from across the Pacific.
Yusei Kikuchi: LHP
2018 Stats (Seibu Lions):
14-4, 3.08 ERA, 23 Starts, 153 SO, 163.2 IP, 1.033 WHIP, 3.25 RA/9
Yusei Kikuchi was recently posted by the Seibu Lions, meaning that MLB teams can now try and bid for his services. The 27-year-old southpaw is a 3-time NPB All-Star who was a year removed from a stellar 2017, in which he led the Pacific League in Wins (16) and ERA (1.97).
He was scouted extensively by both NPB and MLB in high school and was originally to become the first Japanese high school player to bypass the domestic draft to come to MLB, but soon chose to remain in Japan instead. In 8 seasons with the Lions, Kikuchi posted a 73-46 record, along with a career 2.77 ERA. His repertoire features a fastball that has been clocked in as high as96- 98 MPH, velocity that is uncommon among NPB left-handers. His main secondary pitch is a slider, and he also mixes in the occasional curveball and changeup.
Compared to his excellent 2017, Kikuchi’s 2018 season was a step backward by most numbers. Part of this was due to spending time on the disabled list due to stiffness in his throwing shoulder. A bright side noted by many of Kikuchi’s teammates and opponents is that he is starting to throw his curveball and changeup more, and is beginning to develop more confidence in those pitches, which could help him become more effective when he is fully healthy.
Starter or Reliever?
The Yankees could look to sign Kikuchi to give them another left-handed option. The question is whether he would be better off in an MLB starting rotation, or move to the bullpen. As of right now, many scouts believe that he has the potential to be a No. 2 Starter due to the high velocity on his fastball.
There is the problem that most Japanese pitchers have when they do come over to the States, and that is when they have success at the start of their MLB careers, but soon suffer a steep decline. Notable examples of this are Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had an excellent first couple seasons in MLB before their numbers fell off considerably, whether it be from injury or some other unknown factor.
Fear of this could prompt whoever signs him to move him to the bullpen, where he could fill in as a spot starter/long relief option.
Whoever does sign Kikuchi, whether it be the Yankees or another team, will have to pay Seibu a fee for his services. Unlike with two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Kikuchi will come cheap. As of this offseason, MLB and NPB agreed to new posting rules, where all postings must be made between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5, followed by a 30-day negotiating window. Fees are dependent on the size of the contract, with MLB teams having to pay 20 percent of the first $25 million, another 17.5 percent for the next $25 million, and an added 15 percent for any amount over $50 million.
Contract Prediction: 5 years, $55 million