Dec. 3: Major League clubs have been informed that Kikuchi will be available to them beginning tomorrow morning at 8am ET, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
Nov. 23: The Seibu Lions of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball have announced that they will post ace Yusei Kikuchi for Major League teams in early December (English-language link via the Japan Times). The negotiating window for the 27-year-old left-hander will begin on Dec. 5.
This will be the first offseason featuring the new posting system between NPB and MLB. Under the new rules, all 30 teams will have a 30-day window to negotiate with Kikuchi and recently hired agent Scott Boras. It’s a change from the previous iterations of the system — both the former blind bidding and the $20MM maximum posting fee — as the release fee paid to the Lions will now be based on the size of the contract that Kikuchi signs with his new team.
Beyond the actual contract given to Kikuchi, his new team will need to pay a release fee equal to 20 percent of the first $25MM of the deal, plus 17.5 percent of the next $25MM of the contract, plus another 15 percent of anything beyond $50MM. (A $60MM contract, for instance, would come with a release fee of $10.875MM.) The Lions will also receive a sum equal to 15 percent of any non-guaranteed money that Kikuchi eventually earns (e.g. performance bonuses, option salaries).
Kikuchi won’t turn 28 until next June, meaning his age will be an extremely appealing factor as Major League clubs weigh how heavily to pursue him. Beyond the fact that he’s younger than any other starter on the free-agent market, Kikuchi’s performance over the past several seasons has established him as one of the top starters in all of NPB. Over the past four seasons, Kikuchi has worked to a pristine 2.58 ERA with averages of 8.9 strikeouts, 3.1 walks and 0.68 home runs per nine innings pitched. The general belief with Kikuchi is that he can function, at the very least, as a serviceable fourth starter, though the most optimistic teams are more bullish on his upside.
Given the sizable number of clubs looking to add to their rotations this offseason, the general lack of available top-end pitching and the upside the left-hander brings to the table, Kikuchi’s market should be a robust mix of contenders and non-contenders alike. The Padres, for instance, are reported to be seeking starters who are young enough to contribute to the rotation by the time the bulk of the team’s core has emerged in the Majors — perhaps in the 2020-21 seasons. The Phillies, too, have been linked to Kikuchi, as have the Dodgers. Not every team with some rotation questions will embark on an aggressive pursuit, of course — the Red Sox are said to be “lukewarm” on the lefty — but interest will be expansive enough that Boras should secure a strong multi-year deal for the market’s top international player this winter.