Yusei Kikuchi’s introductory presser was a hit in Seattle this afternoon, as the lefty kicked off his address in English and expressed his great delight in becoming the latest to revel in the Japanese-rich heritage of the Mariners, who’ve featured at least one player from the country in every season since 1998. The 27-year-old hurler – or, perhaps to a greater degree, his agent Scott Boras, acting on his behalf – seemed lured to the Pacific Northwest by the promise of a seminal pitching plan developed by GM Jerry Dipoto and staff, one crafted with the express purpose of easing the rigorous transition from Japan’s Pacific League to MLB. “He’s pitched 160-180 innings over the last couple years in Japan, so we’re not going to get super conservative,” Dipoto said (link to article from MLB.com’s Greg Johns). “But we do feel over the course of 30-32 starts of a season, if every sixth start we … make that more of a bullpen day where he … stays on turn and prepares as a normal start, and then goes out and throws a one inning or 30-pitch start, it gives him a nice little breather without breaking turn or taking him away from his routine.” Such a plan would be without precedent in the majors, though with so many Japanese hurlers hitting the shelf soon after their major-league transition, it seems a savvy one indeed.
Here’s more reaction and follow-up from the deal . . .
- The Blue Jays were a surprise entry in the sweepstakes, with Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweeting that the team made a “strong play” for the lefty. The top of Toronto’s rotation crumbled last season, as both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman struggled to prevent runs, and the back half offered little in way of compensation. The Blue Jays have reportedly made it known that Stroman – who still posted excellent ground-ball (62%) and home-run (0.79 HR/9) rates last season – is available in trade talks, though recent reports have hinted that the club is more likely to keep him. Beyond that, prospects are grim: the club boasts no track records on which it can count, and upper-minors depth is scarce. Toronto does seem high on Trent Thornton, acquired from Houston in a November deal that sent away Aledmys Diaz, but the team will need to concentrate the majority of its efforts on finding quality hurlers in the months to come.
- Keith Law of ESPN (subscription required) offers his analysis of the deal, writing that Kikuchi has “N0. 2 starter stuff” if healthy, but noting that the lefty’s delivery places undue stress on his shoulder, which has already endured a litany of setbacks in his young career. Shoulder troubles, of course, are notoriously difficult to overcome, and often leave the hurler unable to replicate earlier-career levels of success, so Seattle will certainly need to keep close watch on their new investment in his initial MLB foray.
- Per Dipoto, via The Athletic’s Corey Brock on Twitter, the Mariners would still like to acquire relievers, “most likely” of the free-agent variety, and are looking to acquire a veteran infielder capable of handling shortstop. The club, of course, has been heavily rumored to be shopping recent acquisition Edwin Encarnacion, and is reportedly still looking to find a way to move both Kyle Seager and Mike Leake. The roster, under Dipoto’s watch, has been in near-constant flux, so it’s safe to assume the Mariners aren’t close to wrapping up their offseason wish list.