One year ago, the Angels made a surprise splash by beating out a deep field of suitors to land two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani.A similar courtship will soon begin in earnest for yet another Japanese star, as left-hander Yusei Kikuchi was officially posted by the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball
One year ago, the Angels made a surprise splash by beating out a deep field of suitors to land two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani.
A similar courtship will soon begin in earnest for yet another Japanese star, as left-hander Yusei Kikuchi was officially posted by the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball on Tuesday. Could the Angels make a run at Kikuchi, who attended the same high school in Japan as Ohtani?
The Angels are certainly in the market for pitching, and while the 27-year-old Kikuchi isn't expected to generate the same frenzy as Ohtani, many scouts believe his ceiling is that of a No. 2 starter in the Majors. Since debuting in NPB at age 20, Kikuchi has gone 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA in 158 appearances (153 starts) over eight seasons with the Lions.
Kikuchi's best season came in 2017, when he went 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA over a career-high 187 2/3 innings. He wasn't quite as dominant this past season, but he was still one of the best pitchers in Japan, as Kikuchi went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA over 163 2/3 innings to help lead the Lions to the best record in the Pacific League.
Kikuchi's fastball sits at 92-94 mph and tops out at 96-98 mph. His best secondary pitch is a slider, though he also throws a curveball and changeup.
Adding an established arm like Kikuchi could provide a nice boost to the Angels' rotation. As it stands, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and Jaime Barria are likely the only solid bets to start, with Felix Pena, Nick Tropeano and Dillon Peters among the candidates to fill out the staff. The club also has prospects Jose Suarez and Griffin Canning waiting in the wings, with JC Ramirez likely returning from Tommy John surgery around midseason.
While Kikuchi could help fill some of those holes and solidify the Angels' pitching depth, one potential red flag is his injury history. Kikuchi spent time on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury in 2018 and he has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his career. Given the amount of injuries their rotation has sustained in recent years, the Angels are prioritizing durable arms this offseason, which could make the club less amenable to taking on the risk that would accompany a Kikuchi signing.
Teams will have a 30-day window to negotiate with Kikuchi, who is represented by agent Scott Boras. Under the new posting rules, the release fee paid to NPB clubs by MLB teams is contingent on the guaranteed value of the player's MLB contract, beginning with 20 percent of the first $25 million and continuing with 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of any amount beyond $50 million.
If Kikuchi does not sign an MLB deal by Jan. 2, he will stay with the Lions.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter.