The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman had a one-year, $25 million deal on the table for starting pitcher Justin Verlander. However, Verlander elected to stick with the Houston Astros on a two-year, $5M deal.
Clearly, Cashman’s willing to spend to improve the starting rotation, but the majority of quality options have been scooped up off the market before the lockout commenced.
The Yankees could target names like Clayton Kershaw or Carlos Rodon, but one under-the-radar starter could be of interest if management sees more potential in him.
Yusei Kikuchi could be in Cashman’s line of sight after spending the last three seasons with Seattle, pitching a total of 365.2 innings and recording a 4.97 ERA.
2021 Stats: 29 games, 157 IP, 4.41 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 3.85 xFIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.1 fWAR
Kikuchi enjoyed a solid improvement, lowering his ERA to 4.41 this past season also enjoying a career-low 4.16 SIERA and 3.85 xFIP.
Kikuchi has a few concerns, including a 91.9 exit velocity this past season, the highest of his career, meaning batters are getting better contact on his pitchers. His home-run/fly ball ratio ballooned to 20.6%, but he did record a 48.4% ground ball rate.
When taking a look at his pitch repertoire, Kikuchi features a fastball, slider, cutter, and split-fingered fastball. The Yankees will like his 95.2 mph average with his fastball, but his healthy usage of each pitch indicates nice diversity. If he can learn to utilize his pitchers in a more efficient manner and confuse batters, he could see his production skyrocket in the future.
Kikuchi elected to opt out of his contract after spending three years with Seattle, earning $43 million. He was set to earn $13 million this upcoming season with his contract expiring in 2026, but he can now look for a new deal. The Yankees might be willing to offer him a solid contract if they see the value in his arm.
At just 30 years old, there’s still plenty of potential left to tap, And with a Yankees needing talent at other positions as well, he might be a more cost-efficient option compared to more pricey names like Rodon or Kershaw.