With starting pitching the top priority for the Texas Rangers this offseason, could the team shift their attention to Japanese star, Yusei Kikuchi?
If the Texas Rangers are on the hunt for legitimate starting pitching this offseason, could they look past the headliners in Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin pursuing instead, Japanese star, Yusei Kikuchi? Kikuchi is expected to be posted by his club, the Seibu Lions, in Nippon Professional Baseball this winter and will draw interest from numerous suitors including the Texas Rangers.
Performance in Nippon Professional Baseball
Kikuchi, 27 years old, is the headliner of those looking to make a switch to Major League Baseball this offseason. Named as an All-Star this season, Kikuchi is a hard throwing lefty who has emerged as the class of starting pitching in the NPB in 2018. Making 23 starts, Kikuchi went 14-4 with an impressive 3.08 ERA and posting an impressive 1.033 WHIP. Through 163.2 innings he also racked up 153 strikeouts while walking just 45 hitters.
In his professional career, Kikuchi is a combined 74-48 with a 2.81 ERA and his career WHIP is a respectable 1.177 through over 1000 career innings.
Background and the Rangers Past Interest
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Yusei Kikuchi almost made the jump to the MLB nearly a decade ago as he was graduating high school. In 2009, Kikuchi considered bypassing the Japanese amateur draft and signing with an MLB team. The Texas Rangers were hot on the trail of Kikuchi back in 2009 as well reportedly scouting the lefty heavily and just missing out on the prized prospect.
Now, nearly 10 years later, the Texas Rangers could have another shot at the star pitcher as he joins a free agent class currently marked with other impressive left-handers in Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel.
Surprisingly, Kikuchi has drawn a lot of comparison from one of the free agents he’ll be competing against, Patrick Corbin. Similarly to Corbin, Kikuchi has a fastball that usually rides in the mid-90s and can jump to the upper-90’s when needed. He also relies heavily on his slider as his strikeout pitch devastating left handed hitters with the sharp breaking ball.
Eric Chesterton of Cut4 at MLB.com made the comparison and notes, “Like Corbin, Kikuchi primarily relies on two pitches to get outs.”
Chesterton goes on to make another interesting comparison for the Japanese starter finding similarities between his follow-through and that of Dodgers starter Rich Hill.
Why The Rangers Should Be Interested?
First and foremost, the Texas Rangers need starting pitching badly. Any help they can get is welcomed with open arms evidenced by their most recent trade with the Cubs that brought Drew Smyly to Arlington. If Texas is serious about a rebuild and is looking for long-term starting pitching options, Yusei Kikuchi provides a perfect choice.
While Kikuchi is less-proven than frontline starters like Keuchel and Corbin, he’s a couple of years younger than both of those lefty free agents. This allows Texas a couple more seasons of prime pitching from Kikuchi rather than being locked into a contract that will almost all occur during the pitcher’s 30s.
Additionally, Texas likely could avoid the bidding war with contenders that they would face in pursuit of Keuchel or Corbin. With both of those starters high on the list of clubs currently in playoff contention mode, the contract price is sure to be high and the incentive to come to a rebuilding club like the Texas Rangers is low. Kikuchi on the other hand, while still being on the radar of these contending clubs, isn’t the proven starting pitcher they’re chasing this offseason opening the door for Texas to swoop in a secure the left-hander.
Kikuchi has struggled with durability throughout his career which does raise some red flags in terms of long term viability as a starter. Shoulder issues have hindered the lefty which will draw concerns but the upside of Kikuchi should still be enough to spark pursuit on behalf of the Texas Rangers .
The Rangers already have a bit of a connection to Kikuchi having pursued him so heavily back in 2009 which could hopefully make a deal a little more amicable. They’ll still face stiff competition though with the Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox and Yankees all doing due diligence on the Japanese All-Star.
What Does The Posting Process Look Like?
There has been a new adjustments to the posting process between Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball. For the 2018-2019 offseason players can still request to be posted by their Japanese club and must be posted between November 1st and December 5th. With a 30-day negotiation window, players can talk to Major League clubs and agree to contract which then triggers the posting fee.
The fee must be paid to the player’s Japanese club as essentially a buyout. The amounts of the posting fee used to be up to the Japanese club with a limit set on $20 million. Now, the amount varies based on the contract signed by the player and their new Major League Club. For the breakdown of the percentages and amounts of the posting fees, refer to MLB.com’s glossary that gives a more detailed breakdown.