Kikuchi and the Mariners have agreed to a four-year contract.
It started with Mac Suzuki. It grew with Kazahiro Sasaki. And exploded into a phenomenon with Ichiro. From there, it continued with Kenji Johjima, Munenori Kawasaki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Nori Aoki.
Now, that tradition of bringing talented baseball players from Japan to Seattle and the Mariners will continue for at least the next four seasons and possibly beyond.
On Wednesday afternoon, just before the 2 p.m. PDT deadline, the Mariners announced they had officially signed left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi to a four-year contract. The team doesn’t disclose financial terms of the deal. But sources indicated that Kikuchi will make a guaranteed $56 million on the deal. It’s technically a three-year deal for $43 million with four simultaneous club options. Even if the Mariners chose not to exercise their club option for the 2022 season, Kikuchi can exercise a player option of $13 million for that season, which would push the total to $56 million. If the Mariners exercised all four club options, the contract’s total value would push to $107 million.
“Yusei’s combination of character, talent, experience and relative age made him a primary target in our roster building plans,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “He is an exciting young pitcher with the ability to impact the Mariners, both in the present and future.”
The Mariners will hold an introductory news conference on Thursday morning at 11 to introduce Kikuchi to the local media. It will be streamed live on Mariners.com and on the Mariners’ Facebook page.
News of an agreement first surfaced on Monday. Because of the posting and transfer agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, Kikuchi had to sign a contract with a MLB team by the deadline or else return to the Seibu Lions for the 2019 season.
The Mariners scouted Kikuchi extensively the past three seasons. Dipoto said previously that they had scouted him probably more than any other pitcher in the NPB. Per sources in the Mariners, Ted Heid, their director of Pacific Rim scouting and Japanese pro scout Manubu “Manny” Noto did extensive scouting and work on Kikuchi as part of the signing process.
Kikuchi, 27, posted a 69-45 mark with a 2.69 ERA (286 earned runs, 956 1/3 innings pitched) over seven seasons with the Lions in Japan’s Pacific League. He struck out 879 while walking only 363 over his career with the Lions. He was named to NPB All-Star teams (2013, 2017 & 2018) and he led the Pacific League in ERA (1.97) and wins (16) in 2017.
Over the last three seasons, Kikuchi posted a 42-17 record with, 2.51 (138 earned runs, 494 1/3 innings pitched) in 71 starts while striking out 497 batters and walking 161.
Kikuchi will join rotation that includes Felix Hernandez, Marco Gonzales, Wade LeBlanc and Mike Leake. By the 2020 season, if all goes as planned, the rotation will be filled by Gonzales, Kikuchi and prospects Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson with a fifth pitcher to be determined, possibly fellow prospect Justin Dunn.