Daniels: Rangers doing homework on Kikuchi

Japanese lefty fits with club's need for pitching this offseason

December 5th, 2018
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05: President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers talks with the media after announcing the resignation of Manager Ron Washington at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. Ron Washington informed the club that he has chosen to resign in order to turn his full attention to addressing an off-the-field personal matter. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)Tom Pennington/Getty Images

ARLINGTON -- Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi has been posted to the Major Leagues and the Rangers are among the teams interested in his services.

The club was an avid pursuer of last year, only to lose out to the Angels. The Rangers have already begun doing their work with Kikuchi, having scouted him while pitching for the Seibu Lions of of Nippon Professional Baseball, and having preliminary discussions with agent Scott Boras.

"Obviously we are aware," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Our guys do very good work on [a player's] background. I prefer not to comment on specific level of interest, but we will do our homework."

The Rangers' need for pitching is obvious. Right now, the rotation consists of left-hander Mike Minor, two veterans in and Drew Smyly, who are coming back from Tommy John surgery, along with two rookies from this past season in and . The club will be pursuing pitching the entire offseason.

Kikuchi, 27, is not considered at the same level as Ohtani and , but there is still expected to be considerable interest from Major League teams. MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported this summer that Kikuchi has the potential to be a No. 2 starter in the Major Leagues.

Kikuchi made 23 starts for the Lions this past season, going 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA. In 163 2/3 innings, he allowed 6.8 hits, 2.5 walks and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He also missed time while on the disabled list with left shoulder stiffness, and that could be a concern.

Kikuchi was even better in 2017, when he went 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA in 26 starts while averaging 5.9 hits, 2.3 walks and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. His fastball averages 92-94 mph, and he can hit as high as 98 at times. Kikuchi's main offspeed pitch is the slider, but he can also mix in the curve and changeup as well.

The attraction between Japanese players and West Coast teams is obvious, starting with the relative proximity. The Mariners, Dodgers, Giants and Padres are expected to pursue Kikuchi, and the Yankees and Phillies could also be significant interested clubs. But the Rangers have worked hard to establish a foothold in Japan, especially after winning the bidding for Darvish in 2012.

Teams have 30 days to negotiate a deal with Kikuchi and Boras, whose previous international clients notably included star Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Because Kikuchi is at least 25 years old and has played in NPB for at least six seasons, he won't be subject to the same international bonus-pool restrictions that Ohtani was last year. Ohtani was considered an international amateur free agent.

If Kikuchi signs with a Major League team, the Lions will be paid a release fee based on the guaranteed value of the MLB contract that Kikuchi signs, 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.

In addition to the release fee, the Lions could also receive a supplemental fee if Kikuchi signs a contract that includes bonuses, salary escalators or options. Seibu would receive 15 percent of any bonus or salary escalator that Kikuchi earns, as well as of any option exercised.

MLB and NPB agreed to a new posting system starting this offseason, and that brings some changes to how the process will work with Kikuchi. Under the old posting system, the posting fee was capped at $20 million, and in a previous iteration, teams went through a blind bidding process as opposed to the current open negotiations.