Blue Jays sign left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchiaccording to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. This is a three-year, $36 million contract. (Twitter connections) The transaction is anticipated, by Bob Nightengale of USA Todaywith Kikuchi earning a salary of $16 million in 2022, followed by $10 million in 2023 and 2024.
Getting started has been a hot commodity this offseason, with most big names signing before lockdown. Now that the trading freeze has thawed, the market has picked up where it left off. The two top free agent pitchers who lingered in the market through the lockout, Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Rodonsigned on the first full day after the lockdown ends. This left Kikuchi and Zack Greinke as the only healthy starters remaining on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list. With the Jays picking up Kikuchi, that leaves Greinke as the last man standing.
Kikuchi has been one of the toughest pitchers to rate since arriving from Japan ahead of the 2019 season. In his first MLB season, he made 32 starts for the Mariners, pitching 161 2/3 innings with an ERA of 5 .46 and one strikeout. In the shortened 2020 campaign, he made nine starts and still had a high 5.11 ERA, but made huge strides in the strikeouts department, bumping his rate to 24.2%.
2021 has been the story of two seasons for Kikuchi as the first half of his campaign has been great. In early July, MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote about Kikuchi’s season around the midpoint, when Kikuchi had made 15 starts and was sitting on a 3.18 ERA, 25.4 percent strikeout rate, strikeout rate of 8.5% walking and 53.8% ground ball rate. But things went completely in the opposite direction in the second half of the season, as Kikuchi pitched 63 2/3 innings from then on. , with a 6.22 ERA, 23.3% strikeout rate, 10.3% walk rate and 41.7% rush rate.
Under Kikuchi’s unusual contract structure, at the end of the season the Mariners then had to decide whether to execute a series of four one-year options valued at $16.5 million each, or $66 million over four years. expansion that would cover the 2022-25 seasons. After declining, Kikuchi could have selected a one-year, $13 million player option for 2022. deal after his poor performance in the stretch he finally declined and tested the free agent market. This has now proven to be a wise move on his part as he has earned himself a new contract at that exact rate but three times longer.
The Blue Jays were obviously encouraged enough by Kikuchi’s strengths to ignore his weaknesses, much like they were with Robbie Ray and steven matzAlthough both of these pitchers have serious flaws in their respective resumes, they both had great campaigns with the Jays in 2021, with Ray winning the American League’s Cy Young Award Although both Ray and Matz will be wearing new uniforms this year, Kikuchi will still join a strong rotation. The club also added Kevin Gausman before the lockout, join Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu and Alek ManoahIt will probably be the first five of the club, but they also Ross Striplin on hand, who could work either as a starter or as a longman out of the bullpen. Nate Pearson could potentially join the rotation at some point, although he has durability issues after pitching just 18 innings in 2020 and just 45 2/3 in 2021.
Post-lockdown, the 2022 season will feature condensed spring training and a regular season with additional double headers to compensate for the delayed start to the campaign. These factors, combined with dwindling options in the free agent market, led the Jays to take a risk in building their depth with a pitcher who had flashes of excellence but also specific concerns.
In terms of the structure of the deal, it’s worth pointing out that the Blue Jays also preloaded their contract with George SpringerIt seems like a way to take advantage of the fact that most of the club’s core players are still working their way through refereeing and will only get more and more expensive in the years to come. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is eligible for arbitration for the first time this year as a Super Two player. Theoscar Hernandez will play his second of three officiating seasons in 2022. Bo Bichette and Jordan Romano will not be eligible for arbitration until next year. By paying Springer and Kikuchi more now, the club will have a bit more leeway to deal with the increased salaries of these players over the next few seasons.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.