It’s no secret that the Yankees are pursuing left-handed starting pitchers in an attempt to revamp their starting rotation for the 2019 season. The team has already been connected to Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, but another interesting option has emerged from Japan: 27-year-old Yusei Kikuchi.
The lefty was just posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Seibu Lions. He is now free to negotiate with all 30 MLB teams under a new posting policy that got rid of the exclusive negotiation period that teams would bid for previously. Instead, teams now pay a percentage of the overall guarantee to the original team that posted the player.
Kikuchi made 23 starts (163⅔ innings) in 2018 around a disabled list stint for left shoulder stiffness. He went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA and 8.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. The ERA was his highest since 2014, when he pitched to a 3.54 ERA in 139⅔ innings.
Reports indicate Kikuchi has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter in the MLB, with a fastball that usually sits between 92 and 94 mph with the occasional pitch around 96 mph. His other pitches are a slider, curveball and change-up.
In 2009, Kikuchi considered bypassing the Japanese amateur draft and signing directly with an MLB team. He reportedly met with the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, Yankees, Mets and Mariners before ultimately deciding to sign a contract with Seibu. He was the Pacific League’s leader in wins and ERA in 2017, and was an NPB All-Star in 2013, 2017 and 2018.
Of course, the Yankees are no strangers to using the posting system to acquire talent from Japan. They signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal in January 2014. They signed Hideki Matsui to a three-year, $21 million contract in 2002.