Kikuchi is one of the top pitchers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.
It appears the Mariners have reached an agreement with one of the top starting pitchers remaining on the free-agent market. A report early Monday evening from Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports said Seattle was nearing an agreement with left-hander Yusei Kikuchi.
About two hours later, Jon Heyman and Jon Morosi, both of MLB Network, both tweeted that an agreement has been reached on a four-year contract between the Mariners and Kikuchi.
The details of the contract were leaked to Heyman and it’s certainly different than a typical free agent contract. He’s guaranteed four years — three years for a total of $43 million and a player option for 2022 for $13 million per year. Kikuchi can opt out after three years. The Mariners can also extend him for four more years at a total of $66 million after the first three years of the deal, making it a seven-year contract.
Sources confirmed Kikuchi visited Seattle a few days ago and met with ownership and the team’s front office. By rule as a player being posted and transferred from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, there is a window for the negotiations to take place and deal to be finalized. The deadline for Kikuchi to sign with a team is 2 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday. If he fails to do so, he would return to his team in Japan — the Seibu Lions — for 2019.
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An official announcement about the signing will likely come Wednesday morning before the deadline.
Kikuchi’s agent, Scott Boras, told reporters in his annual winter meetings media briefing that he would hold meetings in Los Angeles with teams invited to make their sales pitch for Kikuchi. More than a dozen teams are reported to have interest.
From there, the plan was to reduce the field and have Kikuchi visit the “finalists.”
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto was open at the winter meetings about his interest in signing Kikuchi and how well he would fit the organization’s plan for a “step back” in 2019 and a playoff push in 2020 and 2021.
“Sure, he’s 27,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know what his interest level in playing in Seattle is just yet. But we are interested. He does fit our timeline. By the time we feel like we’d get to our next window, he’d be 29 years old. He should be very capable of being a part of what we want to do, but whether he wants to come here or not, I can’t tell you that.”
Kikuchi posted a 14-4 record and 3.08 ERA for the Seibu Lions last season. He has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with excellent offspeed pitches. In 2017, he was 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA with 217 strikeouts in 187 1/3 innings.
Seattle has scouted him extensively, knowing he’d be posted this offseason.
“He’s very good,” Dipoto said. “His performance speaks for itself. He’s got real stuff. He’s had a lot of success in Japan. We’ve probably scouted him as much as any player that’s been in the NPB in recent years, because he’s been there for a number of years. So we’ve had a lot of volume in that.”
Dipoto hopes the Mariners’ track record with Japanese players such as Mac Suzuki, Kaz Sasaki, Kenji Johjima, Ichiro, Nori Aoki and Hisashi Iwakuma could be a selling point.
“We are a great market for any player,” Dipoto said. “But any player, specifically for a pitcher and specifically for a pitcher from Japan, we do offer a lot of comforts that I think makes us unique in MLB markets. We have great diversity in the city. The way our market has taken the star players from Japan and really maximized their potential, whether it’s from a marketing perspective or within the community. Those players, whether it was Kaz Sasaki, Kuma or Ichiro, those players turn into superstars. I think some of that comes from the market. We do have a great Japanese-American community. We are heavy in our influence organizationally, whether it was the Nintendo years or those great players that are still connected to the organization.”
Seibu “posted” Kikuchi on Dec. 4, giving every team a chance to negotiate with him. Under the new posting system agreed upon by MLB and NPB, the release fee to the Lions is determined by how large of a contract Kikuchi signs.
Any MLB contract with a total guaranteed value of $25 million or less, the release fee is 20 percent of that guaranteed value. For contracts between $25 million and $50 million, the release fee is 20 percent of the first $25 million of the guaranteed total plus 17.5 percent of the total guaranteed exceeding $25 million. And for contracts of $50 million or more, the release fee is 20 percent of the first $25 million, plus 17.5 percent of the total dollars between $25 million and $50 million and another 15 percent of the total exceeding $50 million.