The Seattle Mariners continued to retool their roster in 2018, making one last change in the outgoing year. According to reports, the Mariners have agreed to terms with left-handed Japanese hurler Yusei Kikuchi on a four-year deal. Due to this agreement, the Mariners will also have to pay a release fee to the Seibu Lions, Kikuchi’s former club. Financial details of the deal are not yet known.
Kikuchi was posted on December 3 by the Seibu Lions and came right up to the pre-set deadline of January 2 to agree on an MLB deal.
— MLB (@MLB) January 1, 2019
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 1, 2019
Report: Yusei Kikuchi Agrees to Terms With Seattle Mariners
Kikuchi starred in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) over the past eight years, going 74-48 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.1778 WHIP. His best season came in 2017 when the left-hander posted career-high numbers in innings (187.1 IP), strikeouts (217), and WHIP (0.911) en route to a 16-6 record and 2.35 ERA. Kikuchi has a versatile arsenal, though he relies heavily on his slider as a preferred weapon:
Recurring shoulder injuries impacted his performance in 2018, limiting his overall effectiveness (14-4 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.033 WHIP) and ability to strike out batters (10.4 SO/9 in 2017, 8.4 SO/9 in 2018). Durability concerns have followed Kikuchi for years, representing the biggest hurdle he will need to overcome as he prepares for his first MLB season.
Kyodo News reports that Kikuchi has prepared for this move for several years, taking language lessons with the goal of making a speech in English at his MLB introductory press conference. That would be a first for a Japanese player.
He has also embraced advanced analytics to sharpen his delivery and performance as he looks to conquer the new challenges pitching in the US offers. These moves show the lengths Kikuchi is willing to go to in order to succeed in all areas of his career and his willingness to adapt in order to build on his NPB success.
Despite Kikuchi’s health struggles, he should be a solid addition to the Mariner staff, though not at the level of previous Japanese hurlers Shohei Ohtani, Masahiro Tanaka, or Kenta Maeda.
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