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

After many, many steps back taken over the last two months, the Mariners are poised to start the new year with a step forward. The Mariners do indeed have a deal with the 27-year-old lefty from Japan, Yusei Kikuchi.

Mariners sign Japanese LHP Yusei Kikuchi to four-year deal

Kikuchi, who was posted by the Seibu Lions on Dec. 4 and is facing a Jan. 2 deadline to sign with an MLB club, has agreed to a contract with four years guaranteed.

Kikuchi has long held the Mariners’ interest with numerous front office members making trips to Japan last season to scout him. In addition to Kikuchi’s pitching repertoire and success in Japan’s Nippon Pro Baseball, general manager Jerry Dipoto sees him as a good fit in the Mariners’ current re-imagining plan. With the intention to have the window to compete opening in the 2020-2021 seasons, Kikuchi in his prime should be a part of that. An added bonus? With a step-back year for the team in 2019, Kikuchi will be provided a soft landing in his MLB debut season.

The deal as reported by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is an interesting one with Kikuchi getting three years guaranteed totaling $43 million and a player option for a fourth year at $13 million. The twist? The Mariners would have the option to replace the fourth year with an additional four-year, $66 million extension. Should the Mariners opt to extend, the final contract would be worth $109 million. A creative approach perhaps with Scott Boras rumored to be looking for a deal in the seven-year, $140 million range.

The deal will also require the Mariners to pay a posting fee to the Seibu Lions, and it represents the largest contract Dipoto has given to a free agent while general manager of the Mariners. It represents a commitment to what Dipoto is hoping is the not-too-distant future with the team poised to compete. The deal and commitment should also put to rest any talk of the team tanking. This is a move to build the Mariners back up now in order to compete in a couple to a few years, not a move for a more lengthy rebuild that could take five to seven years.

Kikuchi will join a rotation that includes a former teammate in Wade LeBlanc, who pitched for Seibu in 2015. Marco Gonzales, Félix Hernández and Mike Leake should complete that rotation, although the Mariners have shown interest in trading Leake, who has two years and $36 million remaining on his contract. New acquisitions Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson are not expected to start the season in the big leagues but figure to be mid-season adds. At that point the Mariners could have four out of five spots of their future rotation in place.

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