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Yusei Kikuchi signing official

The Mariners have officially signed Japanese free-agent pitcher Yusei Kikuchi to a multi-year contract. The former Saitama Seibu Lions star was posted for Major League teams' consideration at his request by the Nippon Professional Baseball club last month and chose Seattle after meeting with representatives of several MLB teams in December.

Pitchers who moved
from NPB to MLB

Hideo Nomo (LAD, NYM, MIL, DET, BOS, TB, KC)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (21) 5  78-46-1 3.15 105113 1.317 588 1204
MLB (26) 14 123-109-0 4.24 197613 1.354 908 1918
Top MLB yr (26) 1995 13-6-0 2.54 19113 1.056 78 236

Shigetoshi Hasegawa (ANA, SEA)

 Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22) 6 57-45-4 3.79 903 1.328 286 515
MLB (28) 9 45-43-33 3.70 72013 1.327 265 447
Top MLB yr (34) 2003 2-4-16 1.48 73 1.096 18 32

Takashi Kashiwada (NYM)

Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22)
10 4-2-1 3.91 18613 1.261 65 115
MLB (26) 1 3-1-0 4.31 3113 1.691 18 19

Hideki Irabu (NYY, MON, TEX)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (19) 11 72-69-11 3.55 128613 1.317 558 1282
MLB (28) 6 34-35-16 5.15 514 1.405 175 405
Top MLB yr (29) 1998 13-9-0 4.06 173 1.295 76 126

Masato Yoshii (NYM, COL, MON)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (20) 18 89-82-62 3.86 1330 1.336 390 763
MLB (33) 5 32-47-0 4.62 75713 1.356 222 447
Top MLB yr (33) 1998 6-8-0 3.93 17123 1.276 53 117

Masao Kida (DET, LAD, SEA)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (20) 19 73-82-50 3.91 126923 1.335 446 1036
MLB (30) 5 1-1-1 5.83 9523 1.599 39 68
Top MLB yr (30) 1999 1-0-1 6.26 6423 1.593 30 50

Tomokazu Ohka (BOS, MON/WAS, MIL, TOR, CLE)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 7 8-17-0 5.23 21123 1.540 79 112
MLB (23) 11 58-68-0 4.26 1070 1.387 302 590
Top MLB yr (26) 2002 13-8-0 3.18 19223 1.240 45 118

Kazuhiro Sasaki (SEA)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22) 12 43-38-252 2.41 62723 1.007 230 851
MLB (32) 4 7-16-129 3.14 22313 1.084 77 242
Top MLB (33) 2001 0-4-45 3.24 6623 0.885 11 62

Takahito Nomura (MIL)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (23) 11 24-22-39 3.21 43113 1.284 165 476
MLB (33) 1 0-0-0 8.56 1323 2.122 18 9

Satoru Komiyama (NYM)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (24) 18 117-141-4 3.71 2293 1.300 591 1533
MLB (36) 1 0-3-0 5.61 4313 1.500 12 33

Kazuhisa Ishii (LAD, NYM)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 18 143-103-1 3.63 215313 1.307 941 2115
MLB (28) 4 39-34-0 4.44 564 1.528 354 435
Top MLB yr (29) 2003 9-7-0 3.86 147 1.565 101 140

Akinori Otsuka (SD, TEX)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (25) 7 14-23-137 2.39 35023 1.010 117 474
MLB (32) 4 13-15-39 2.44 232 1.164 80 217
Top MLB yr (32) 2004 7-2-2 1.75 7713 1.060 26 87

Shingo Takatsu (CWS, NYM)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22) 15 36-46-286 3.20 76113 1.273 255 591
MLB (35) 2 8-6-27 3.38 9823 1.265 40 88

Keiichi Yabu (OAK, SF)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (25) 12 84-106-0 3.58 165523 1.264 475 1035
MLB (36) 2 7-6-1 4.00 126 1.468 58 92

Takashi Saito (LAD, BOS, ATL, MIL, ARZ)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22) 15 91-81-55 3.75 157223 1.239 456 1330
MLB (36) 7 21-15-84 2.34 338 1.059 108 400
Top MLB yr (37) 2007 2-1-39 1.40 6413 0.715 13 78

Hideki Okajima (BOS, OAK)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (19) 15 38-40-50 3.19 73923 1.276 323 760
MLB (31) 6 17-8-6 3.09 25013 1.262 88 216
Top MLB yr (31) 2007 3-2-5 2.22 69 0.971 17 63

Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS, NYM)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 10 114-64-1 2.99 1459 1.159 536 1408
MLB (26) 8 56-43-1 4.45 79013 1.402 387 720
Top MLB yr (27) 2008 18-3-0 2.90 16723 1.324 94 154

Kei Igawa (NYY)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (19) 11 93-72-1 3.21 138723 1.262 453 1279
MLB (27) 2 2-4-0 6.66 7123 1.758 37 53

Masumi Kuwata (PIT)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 20 173-141-14 3.55 276123 1.229 752 1980
MLB (39) 1 0-1-0 9.43 21 1.905 15 12

Kazuo Fukumori (TEX)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 15 41-45-82 3.65 70813 1.376 257 495
MLB (31) 1 0-0-0 20.25 4 3.750 4 1

Masahide Kobayashi (CLE)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (25) 11 36-34-0 2.93 599 1.195 180 465
MLB (34) 2 4-5-6 5.10 6513 1.373 18 39

Hiroki Kuroda (LAD, NYY)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22) 13 124-105-1 3.55 202123 1.246 504 1461
MLB (33) 7 79-79-0 3.45 1319 1.172 292 986
Top MLB yr (37) 2012 16-11-0 3.32 21923 1.165 51 167

Yasuhika Yabuta (KC)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (23) 15 48-72-67 3.81 100913 1.321 360 710
MLB (35) 2 3-4-0 7.32 5123 1.819 24 34

Koji Uehara (BAL, TEX, BOS, CHC)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (24) 11 112-67-33 3.02 158323 1.008 211 1400
MLB (34) 9 22-26-95 2.66 48023 0.890 78 572
Top MLB yr (38) 2013 4-1-21 1.21 7413 0.565 9 101

Kenshin Kawakami (ATL)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (23) 14 117-76-1 3.24 1731 1.166 391 1381
MLB (34) 2 8-22-1 4.32 24323 1.395 89 164

Ken Takahashi (NYM)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (26) 15 70-92-5 4.33 145923 1.398 522 1066
MLB (40) 1 0-1-0 2.96 2713 1.354 14 23

Hisanori Takahashi (NYM, LAA, PIT, CHC)

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (25) 12 79-73-15 3.79 134813 1.286 384 1069
MLB (35) 4 14-12-10 3.99 24313 1.274 84 221
Top MLB yr (35) 2010 10-6-8 3.61 122 1.303 43 114

Ryota Igarashi (NYM, TOR, NYY)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (20) 16 60-38-70 2.93 82323 1.135 338 887
MLB (31) 3 5-2-0 6.41 73 1.808 51 72

Yoshinori Tateyama (TEX)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (23) 13 35-43-27 3.43 669 1.166 157 491
MLB (35) 2 3-0-1 5.75 61 1.180 17 61

Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (20) 11 107-69-0 3.25 1541 1.204 342 1175
MLB (31) 6 63-39-2 3.42 88323 1.143 185 714
Top MLB yr (32) 2013 14-6-0 2.66 21923 1.006 42 185

Kyuji Fujikawa (CHC, TEX)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (19) 15 55-34-225 2.04 866 1.023 298 1122
MLB (32) 3 1-1-2 5.74 2623 1.463 8 32

Tsuyoshi Wada (CHC)

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (22) 11 126-66-0 3.11 165423 1.134 441 1520
MLB (33) 2 5-5-0 3.36 10123 1.249 30 88

Yu Darvish (TEX, LAD, CHC)*

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 7 93-38-0 1.99 126813 0.985 333 1250
MLB (25) 6 57-45-0 3.49 87213 1.190 328 1070
Top MLB yr (26) 2013 13-9-0 2.83 20923 1.073 80 277

Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)*

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 7 99-35-3 2.30 1315 1.108 275 1238
MLB (25) 5 64-34-0 3.59 82413 1.103 160 798
Top MLB yr (25) 2014 13-5-0 2.77 13613 1.056 21 141

Kenta Maeda (LAD)*

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (20) 8 97-67-0 2.39 150923 1.048 319 1233
MLB (28) 3 37-27-3 3.80 43513 1.178 127 472

Kazuhito Makita (SD)*

 Lg (debut age) Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (26) 7 53-49-25 3.16 92113 1.173 206 514
MLB (33) 1 0-1-0 5.40 35 1.257 12 37

Shohei Ohtani (LAA)*

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (18) 5 42-15-0 2.52 543 1.076 200 624
MLB (23) 1 4-2-0 3.31 5123 1.161 22 63

Yusei Kikuchi (SEA)*

Lg (debut age)  Years W-L-S ERA IP WHIP BB K
NPB (20) 8 78-48-1 2.81 103513 1.177 381 925
MLB (27) ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

* Active

Kikuchi's deal is unusual in that it could be for three, four, or seven years. The base contract is for three years with a player option for a fourth, but the Mariners have negotiated the right to replace the player option year with a four-year guaranteed extension through 2025. The M's would make that decision after the completion of the 2021 season. Agent Scott "Vader" Boras had reportedly been seeking an annual salary for his client of $20 million, but the final figures are a bit less; Kikuchi will make $14.333 million in 2019, ’20, and ’21. Should the Mariners not choose to exercise the extension option, Kikuchi's player option for 2022 would be for $13 million; if the M's opt to extend, Kikuchi's salaries for each of the ’21-’25 seasons would be $16.5M.

Kikuchi's signing comes after the Mariners lost out on last year's big import from Japan, two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who chose to join the Los Angeles Angels instead (and, like several other Angel pitchers, ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery). Landing Kikuchi means that the M's will continue their tradition of having at least one Japanese player on their big-league roster, an unbroken streak going back to Mac Suzuki in 1998. Seattle General Manager Jerry Dipoto thinks the Mariners' history with Japanese players worked to their advantage with Kikuchi, as did the city of Seattle itself. "We offer a lot of comforts that make us unique among Major League markets," Dipoto said, "with our great diversity in the city and the way our market has taken the star players from Japan and really maximized their potential, [both] from a marketing perspective and within the community....We have a great Japanese-American community."

Mariner scouts have been eyeing Kikuchi for some time, and members of the club's front-office staff made trips to Japan to see him play for Seibu this past season. His four-pitch repertoire features above-average-but-not-elite stuff, with a mid-90s fastball and sharp slider. "He's got real stuff," said Dipoto, "and he's had a lot of success in Japan. We've probably scouted him as much as any player in NPB in recent years." Though his 2018 was less spectacular, Kikuchi was runner-up for the Sawamura Award for pitching excellence in 2017, when he posted a record of 16-1, a microscopic 0.911 WHIP, and a 1.97 ERA in 26 starts (18723 innings). He missed a short period last season with shoulder stiffness, which one American playing in Japan, Tohoku Rakuten pitcher Frank Herrmann, thought contributed to his lesser performance in '18 and would end up being a blessing in disguise. "He's become more than a [two-pitch] guy, which he predominantly was [in 2017]," Herrmann said. "He will now flip in a curveball early in the count and use his changeup to guys that [are] on his fastball. [Before], there was never a need for him to get away from the [fastball/slider] combo.... The slightly diminished stuff in '18 could be a positive once the shoulder gets back to full strength, because I think he's gained confidence in his other secondary offerings out of necessity."

Kikuchi has shown some fortitude off the field as well; as an 18-year-old prospect, Kikuchi bucked cultural pressure and reported abusive behavior by a Seibu coach to club management, leading to the coach's firing. He has reportedly taken weekly English lessons for several years and told Kyodo News that he would like to be the first Japanese player to conduct his first US press event without an interpreter.

The 27-year-old southpaw figures to be one of the top two pitchers in the Mariners' starting rotation for the foreseeable future. How his success in NPB will translate to the Majors is uncertain; several previous pitchers from Japan's Pacific and Central leagues have fared well in the big leagues, at least initially, but not at the elite level they enjoyed back home. Partly that's been due to age, of course, as most Japanese imports only come to North America after playing their prime years with NPB clubs, but a few have made the transition, if not seamlessly, then with minimal trouble. Still, acclaim for Kikuchi is not universal. One National League scout called him "just fair," and one NPB executive cautioned patience to the team that ended up signing Kikuchi. "He was always cited here as having some of the best potential of any left-handed pitcher," the executive said. "And then it took him six years to win double-digit games. I hope this doesn't turn into a repeat of Kei Igawa." Igawa, of course, was the ace of the Hanshin Tigers before being acquired by the Yankees and, arguably, ruined by Yankee pitching coach Nardi Contreras and the New York environment.

The most comparable NPB-to-MLB pitcher to Kikuchi might be Hiroki Kuroda, who came to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. It's not a perfect analogue; Kuroda threw righty, for one, and was six years older than Kikuchi when he came to the Majors, but had a similar arsenal of pitches and similar velocity on the fastball. Also, Kuroda had dominated the Central League in 2006 (13-6, 1.85 ERA in 25 starts) then fell off a bit in ’07 (12-8, 3.56) before being posted by the Hiroshima Carp. Kazuhisa Ishii was a fellow left-hander and closer in age to Kikuchi's 27 years when he crossed the Pacific (also to the Dodgers), but Ishii didn't throw as hard or have the propensity for swing-and-miss strikeouts seen in Kikuchi.

 Kikuchi is the first Japanese player to come to the Majors under the new posting system between MLB and NPB. Unlike the old system, under which teams would place a blind bid with the posting club (up to $20 million) and the high bidder would pay that bid to the NPB club and have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with the player, the current setup allows any team to negotiate with the posted player and the posting team is paid a fee equal to a percentage of the final negotiated contract (20% of the first $25 million, 17.5% of the next $25 million and 15% of the remainder, plus 15% of incentives earned and bonuses paid).

 

Comments

  • Posted by Mack McCoy on January 1, 2019 (6 months ago)

    What the heck is going on around there?

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