Y’all ready to track some flights? Lookout Landing boasts a long tradition of aeronautical espionage, dating back at least as far as the Robinson Canó sweepstakes, and certainly last year’s heartbreaking Shohei Ohtani extravaganza which was left jilted on the runway. Today we intern a new saga in the history of Seattle’s curious skygazers: LHP Yusei Kikuchi has reportedly visited the Mariners, with around 48 hours until the deadline for his decision remaining.
Potentially big New Year's Eve news for Mariners: Japanese standout Yusei Kikuchi visiting Seattle as his deadline to choose MLB team nears. Here's the latest. https://t.co/TwP9guKN2f— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) December 31, 2018
While there’s not much more meat on the rumor than the info above, it’s a valuable note for a story that had little more than wishful thinking behind it prior to today. We can pair Johns’ report with a tantalizing morsel from Nikkan Sports - a daily national sports newspaper from Japan that has been running for over 70 years.
For those of you a bit behind on your Kanji and Katakana, the translations vary, however all point to the Mariners as somewhere between a “top choice” and “influential” option. It’s difficult to imagine raising hopes in any fashion this offseason, however signing Kikuchi would be a major boon for Seattle in the short and long term.
As Jake outlined a few weeks ago, Kikuchi fits excellently with the Mariners window. The 27-year-old likely profiles as a No. 3 starter, meaning a 3-4 WAR starting pitcher. Acquiring the talented lefty would beef up a roster with question marks in the rotation for both 2019 and beyond. Even if Kikuchi faces challenges adjusting to the majors, or offers durability concerns, Seattle provides an opportunity to ease into an MLB rotation and workload, with a 2019 that is much more about preparing for the future for all involved than dominating immediately. His transition to the majors has been met with less fanfare than players like Ohtani, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Yu Darvish, as he has neither put up as electric a track record, nor does he boast a typical ace’s frame. Still, just 6’0 feet tall, he’s an impressive pitcher.
Kikuchi also seemingly has a nose for analytics, discussing how he’s used Trackman data to adjust his mechanics and maximize his repertoire.
Because of the shifts in rules for posted players, Kikuchi has 30 days from his December 3rd posting, meaning the time is nigh for a decision. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs projected a 4-year, $40 million deal for Kikuchi at the outset of the offseason, while crowdsourced answers had a loftier 4/$52 million as a median or 4/$57 million as a mean expectation. MLB Trade Rumors went with a similar total but a weaker AAV at 6/$42 million. Any and all of those deals would be more than palatable for a talented pitcher that has shown No. 2 starter stuff at times, though if a 5-year deal can be swung it seems to behoove Seattle to angle for it and hopefully secure a solid pitcher for more of their self-proclaimed window.
Seattle has prioritized getting financial flexibility this offseason, to the chagrin of many fans and analysts, myself included. Financial flexibility is valuable if you are in a sport that imposes limitations on spending, but Seattle has never approached the luxury tax, and has fallen victim solely to self-imposed limitations. With little leverage otherwise, we must therefore hope for Seattle to execute successfully within the more limited scope they’re choosing to engage. Signing talented players like Kikuchi who do not carry the poison pill of sacrificing a draft pick like players who earn qualifying offers allows Seattle to have their cake and eat it too, improving the team in the short and long term while still maximizing their minor league depth. Add in the exciting possibility of seeing Kikuchi start a game in Tokyo this spring, and it’s a move worth getting excited about. We’ve been burned before, but the hot stove keeps us warm, and perhaps this New Year’s the Mariners will have a little something extra to look forward to. Keep checking those flights.
UPDATE: 7:14 PM PT
We now have multiple reports indicating the Mariners are the frontrunners, somewhere between simply a top choice and directly in contract negotiations.
Happy New Year, Seattle: The Mariners appear to be nearing an agreement with Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi, major league sources tell @JeffPassan and me. The 27-year-old Kikuchi must sign before the Jan. 2 posting deadline.— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) January 1, 2019
Source confirms Yusei Kikuchi is deep in talks with Mariners, as @TBrownYahoo & @JeffPassan reported. Source added that other teams remain in this mix, as well, as no deal between Kikuchi and Seattle has been finalized yet. He must sign by the January 2 deadline.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 1, 2019
UPDATE: 7:17 PM PT
Jon Heyman, aka Scott Boras’ best friend, reports Kikuchi has a deal with the Mariners.
Sources: Yusei Kikuchi has a deal with Mariners— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 1, 2019
FUTHER UPDATE: 8:29 PM PT
The details of the deal are starting to emerge, and oh it’s a very freaky deal, the kind you don’t bring home to mother:
Kikuchi has an unusual deal. Has initial 4 year guarantee (3 years plus 2022 player option) but 4th year player option can be replaced by an additional 4 year guarantee for a total of 7 years by the #Mariners— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 1, 2019
So basically, if Kikuchi is sort of crummy, the Mariners are on the hook to pay him for four years and that’s it. But if he’s good, the Mariners can swap out his fourth-year player option for another four years. We haven’t seen anything suggesting an AAV yet, although per Mark Feinsand, Boras was seeking an AAV of around 20 million for Kikuchi’s services.
Also, Morosi highlighted something cool: