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Yusei Kikuchi declines player option for 2022, elects free agency

The 2021 Seattle Mariners All-Star representative decides to part ways

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A somewhat surprising decision by pitcher Yusei Kikuchi has many Seattle Mariners fans breathing a sigh of relief.

Anyone who watched Kikuchi struggle mightily the final months of the 2021 season had serious reservations about his place on a hopefully competitive team in 2022, as his control and general “stuff” suffered severely in the wake of MLB deciding midseason to suddenly enforce their own rules regarding pitchers using foreign substances on the mound for grip. After pitching a mostly brilliant first few months of the 2021 season and earning his first selection to the MLB All-Star Game (where he did not pitch due to timing of his starts), his numbers took an absolute dumpster dive in the latter half to the point where the Mariners literally took him out the rotation the last 2 weeks of the season when every game was a must-win. It was rough!

Kikuchi was definitely not the only pitcher affected by MLB’s Sticky Stuff-gate, but the rule-enforcement could not have come at a worse time for his career during a pivotal season where the team could decide to offer the team option extension if he pitched well, or Kikuchi could have forced the issue himself with his player option if he had felt he had pitched well enough to deserve it. Neither of those realities came to fruition and now the team officially has an extra $13 million to spend this offseason.

Best of luck to Yusei, wherever he ends up pitching. Despite how his time with Mariners ended, he had many flashes of brilliance and solid performances during his three seasons with the team. I always thought he’d be one to catch a bad team on one of his good days and throw a no-no just by sheer deception. It’s a shame we never got to see that, but he came fairly close a few times. Here he is taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning versus the eventual 2021 World Series losers, and he also had quite the web gem off the mound.