Sources: Yusei Kikuchi appears to be nearing agreement with Mariners

Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi appears to be nearing an agreement with the Seattle Mariners, league sources said Monday night. Kikuchi, the latest star pitcher to make the jump from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball organization to Major League Baseball, must sign before the posting deadline on Jan. 2.

With less hype than predecessors Shohei Ohtani, Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda, Kikuchi has done his part to make his mark in the same Japanese league as the established MLB stars. His most recent NPB season saw Kikuchi post a 3.08 ERA with 153 strikeouts and 45 walks in 163 2/3 innings.

Yahoo Sports’ Mike Oz has a great primer on Kikuchi here, but the must-know info comes down to this: at 27-years-old, Kikuchi is a left-handed starter with a fastball that sits between 92 and 94 miles per hour. For context, Boston‘s Chris Sale averaged 93.5 MPH on his fastball in 2018. Kikuchi is one of the top starters on the market this offseason and had plenty of interest well before he was officially posted by Japanese club Seibu Lions.

Japanese pitching star Yusei Kikuchi has found his home in Major League Baseball (AP).
Japanese pitching star Yusei Kikuchi has found his home in Major League Baseball (AP).

Early on he was tied to the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers with Kikuchi’s sighting at an Anaheim Ducks game in November furthering rumors that he could land with a California team.

Tanaka and Ohtani both made the leap to MLB rather seamlessly, though not without incident. Both pitchers have dealt with injuries to their ulnar collateral ligament since joining the big leagues. Ohtani recently underwent Tommy John surgery while Tanaka was able to rehab without it. That’s not to say that Kikuchi will deal with a similar fate. But there are no sure things when it comes to handing out big contracts to starting pitchers.

This is the first year of the new posting system — which gives NPB teams a percentage of their former player’s MLB contract rather than a putting a cap on it. Tanaka was 25 when he signed a seven-year, $155 million deal to join the Yankees. Maeda, on the other hand, signed an incentive-laden deal at 28 that guaranteed $25 million over eight years with the Dodgers. To date, he has already earned an estimated $24.5 million with five years left on his deal.

Ohtani’s contract is a bit harder to compare since he was under 25 when he jumped to Major League Baseball and was subject to international signing rules.

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