Salk: Instead of picking up Yusei Kikuchi’s option, Mariners should use money on an ace

Sep 7, 2021, 10:30 AM | Updated: 10:33 am
Mariners Yusei Kikuchi...
Yusei Kikuchi recorded just five outs in an 11-2 Mariners loss to the Astros. (Getty)

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.

Kikuchi struggles, Mariners fall to Astros 11-2 in series opener

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.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

Mariners Table Setter: Kyle Seager is cementing his M’s legend status

Mariners Roof Report

Brought to you by
High 64° | Low 55°
Mariners are on the road.
Mariners at Angels today at 1:07pm

Fri, Sep 24 @ 6:38 pm
Starting Pitcher:
Seattle’s Logan Gilbert

Chevrolet Silverado

Brock and Salk podcast

Seattle Mariners

Mariners Angels Shohei Ohtani...
The Associated Press

Ohtani triples twice, Mariners’ win streak snapped in 14-1 Angels rout

Shohei Ohtani tripled in his first two at-bats and the Los Angeles Angels routed Seattle 14-1 on Saturday night, ending the Mariners’ six-game winning streak and damaging their playoff chances.
1 day ago
The Associated Press

Mariners hold off Angels 6-5 late to keep pace in AL Wild Card chase

The streaking Mariners keep on winning, this time beating the Angels 6-5 to stay in the thick of the American League Wild Card race.
2 days ago
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: Making sense of Mariners’ playoff chances with just 9 games left

How could the Mariners make the playoffs in 2021 with just nine games remaining? Shannon Drayer breaks down what needs to happen.
2 days ago
Mariners Yusei Kikuchi...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: With Yusei Kikuchi’s next start uncertain, could Mariners turn to Matt Brash?

The Mariners haven't made a decision on Yusei Kikuchi's next start, but Shannon Drayer explains how they could turn to prospect Matt Brash.
2 days ago
Mariners infield...
Brent Stecker

The Mariners just brought fun back to fall baseball in Seattle

The Mariners are 5-1 on their current road trip and just finished a four-game sweep of the A's to pull within two games of a playoff spot.
3 days ago
Mariners Luis Torrens...
The Associated Press

Mariners slug their way back to beat A’s 6-5, complete 4-game sweep

Luis Torrens broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run homer in the sixth and the Mariners came back from three runs down to beat the A's 6-5 and complete a huge four-game sweep.
3 days ago
Salk: Instead of picking up Yusei Kikuchi’s option, Mariners should use money on an ace