Mariners sign Japanese LHP Yusei Kikuchi to 4-year deal

Jan 2, 2018, 2:06 PM | Updated: Jan 2, 2019, 9:51 pm

The Mariners made a play for the headlining Japanese pitcher on the market last year and lost out. They had much better luck this time around.

Drayer: Mariners get Yusei Kikuchi, so how does he fit?

A year after Shohei Ohtani spurned Seattle and signed with the Los Angeles Angels, the Mariners signed 27-year-old left-hander Yusei Kikuchi in a deal made official Wednesday.

“Yusei’s combination of character, talent, experience and relative age made him a primary target in our roster building plans,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a press release. “He is an exciting young pitcher with the ability to impact the Mariners, both in the present and future.”

An eight-year NPB veteran with the Saitama Seibu Lions, Kikuchi a 2.81 career ERA. His best season was in 2017, going 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 4.43 strikeouts to walk ration over a career-high 26 starts and 187 2/3 innings. In 2018, he finished 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA over 23 starts (162 2/3 innings). His fastball is said to sit between 92 and 94 mph, and he also features a curveball, slider and splitter that all rate average or better.

A three-time NPB All-Star, the 6-foot, 194-pound Kikuchi registered 879 strikeouts to just 363 walks over his career with the Lions.

Due to posting rules regarding players seeking to move from Japan’s Nippon Pro Baseball to the MLB, Kikuchi had a deadline of 2 p.m. Wednesday to sign with a major league team. His contract with Seattle, which was reported to be in agreement on Monday night, was announced about 15 minutes before the deadline.

The contract as reported is pretty rare. According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Kikuchi has three years guaranteed totaling $43 million plus a player option for a fourth year at $13 million. But the Mariners also have an option that would replace Kikuchi’s fourth-year option with an additional four-year, $66 million extension.

Dipoto was open at the winter meetings in Las Vegas about his interest in Kikuchi and about how a deal structured in the right way could still fit in the Mariners’ rebuilding plans. Seattle is undergoing an extensive makeover this offseason in the hopes of acquiring prospects now with an ultimate goal of being able to contend in a couple of years.

Kikuchi will turn 28 during the 2019 season. With the trade of James Paxton this offseason, Kikuchi will slot high in Seattle’s rotation alongside Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, Felix Hernandez and likely a couple of young prospects.

Kikuchi is the latest in a line of Japanese players to call Seattle home, a list that started with Ichiro Suzuki and also includes Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kenji Johjima, Nori Aoki and Hisashi Iwakuma.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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