Salk: Instead of picking up Yusei Kikuchi’s option, Mariners should use money on an ace
In one of the biggest games of their season, the Mariners needed a big start from 2021 All-Star pitcher Yusei Kikuchi on Monday in Houston.
Unfortunately for both Kikuchi and the Mariners, the southpaw recorded just five outs while giving up six runs (four earned) in a lopsided 11-2 loss to the American League West-leading Astros.
As noted, Kikuchi was the Mariners’ All-Star representative this year after a stellar first half of the season. In 16 starts, Kikuchi was 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 98 1/3 innings.
Kikuchi has had his share of struggles in the second half of this year, though, which comes at an especially bad time as the Mariners are still contending for a wild card spot. He’s 1-4 with a 6.04 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break.
This season is big for Kikuchi as his future with the Mariners likely hangs in the balance. The Mariners will have to decide in the offseason whether or not to pick up Kikuchi’s four-year, $66 million option. If the club declines that option, Kikuchi will then have the choice to return to the team on a one-year deal worth $13 million. If he declines that, Kikuchi will become a free agent.
So with less than a month left in 2021, what direction should the Mariners be leaning with Kikuchi’s option, especially coming off his tough start in Houston? Mike Salk shared his thoughts Tuesday morning on the debut episode of The Mike Salk Show on 710 ESPN Seattle.
“I’ll admit I never bought in to Yusei Kikuchi,” he said. “I wanted to. He has electric stuff. (He’s a) lefty, dynamic. You saw in his last start at home against Houston what he’s capable of. … He was filthy.”
In that last start against Houston that Salk alluded to, Kikuchi spun seven scoreless innings to help Seattle win 4-0.
Salk thinks Kikuchi has “got the stuff,” which includes a mid- to upper-90s fastball, a hard cutter, a slower slider and a developing changeup he uses against right-handed hitters.
“The problem that he seems to run into is when he doesn’t have his best stuff … he doesn’t seem to have that next idea – that veteran savvy, almost – to get him through (the lineup),” Salk said. “So the next thing that happens is he starts being real careful with the strike zone … and we saw it last night. Walk, walk, and guess what happens after a couple of walks to a good team like Houston?”
What happened was Kikuchi walked the bases loaded with no outs in the second inning, Aledmys Diaz plated two on an error by Abraham Toro, and Jake Meyers hit a three-run home run. All of a sudden the Mariners found themselves down 5-0, and soon after Kikuchi left the game with Seattle down by six.
“I’ll give you my clear answer: My answer is no,” Salk said of the Mariners picking up Kikuchi’s four-year club option. “And I’m not just saying it because of the game last night – although that plays into it. I’m just not picking up the option. Good pitcher, but can you do better for $15 million a year? Wouldn’t that money be better invested elsewhere? I have to say yes.”
That money, Salk said, should be used on pitchers who’d be better for the Mariners than Kikuchi at the top of the team’s rotation.
“Now, there aren’t a lot of great free agent pitchers out there, because I think the Mariners need an ace,” he said. “… I want to use that $15 million and use it as a down payment on an ace, OK? I want to stop investing in a Yusei Kikuchi, who is not an ace.”
And while Salk doesn’t want the Mariners to pick up Kikuchi’s option, he’s not opposed to the lefty returning to Seattle altogether.
“Is he serviceable? Sure,” Salk said. “Would I work out a free agent deal for Yusei Kikuchi at $7 million a year? Yeah, I’d love to have him on my side and see what happens in the back end of my rotation … I would (just) rather take that $15 (million) and give a great pitcher $25 (million). I don’t know who that is right now, but that’s how you take this thing to the next level.”
Listen to podcasts of The Mike Salk Show at this link.