Offseason Targets: Getting to know Yusei Kikuchi

As of Tuesday, December 4th, MLB teams can start bidding on the services of Japanese all-star, Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi, 27, will be posted by his NPB organizaion, the Saitama Seibu Lions. Whatever team winds up signing Kikuchi will be ordered to pay a fee of 20 percent for the first $25 million bracket of his contract, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million bracket and 15 percent for any value exceeding $50 million.

According to Jon Heyman, the market has already begun to take shape for the Japanese star, with the Dodgers, Padres, Giants and Mariners making the strongest push Kikuchi. While all teams offer him an opportunity to thrive in the MLB, the Dodgers are the only one of the four that looks to be in contention immediately.

The Dodgers are a logical fit for Kikuchi, as they seemingly find ways to utilize pitching depth to their advantage. As well, the Dodgers have taken part in the international posting system fairly often, bringing in MLB ready talent like Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu over the last several years. Kikuchi may also be interested in pitching for the Dodgers, as they offer him not only the opportunity to make an MLB wage, but also an opportunity to pitch with a World Series contender for now and the future.

In 8 seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions, Kikuhi has dazzled; winning over 60 percent of his games, with a 2.81 ERA, 8 K/9 and allowing under 1 HR/9. These stats, like stats of MLB ready minor leaguers are an indication that the player will likely translate into a quality major league ballplayer at the very least. However, the MLB is known globally to be the most competitive and talented league, globally; the ongoing trend of the world’s best departing for the MLB is a clear indication of this. As a result, star players in Japan often see a natural correction in their statistics (see Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish), so while Kikuchi’s statistics certainly indicate effectiveness, this is not the only thing he shall be judged on.

The best way to evaluate players in leagues other than the MLB is simply their pure physicals and natural skill set. Kikuchi absolutely checks out. With a fastball from the left-side topping topping out in the high 90s, paired with his go-to, wipeout slider and also a curve, Kikuchi has all the tools to be one of the top arms in the league. With the endless list of talent that pitching coach Rick Honeycutt has developed, Kikuchi’s ceiling to succeed with Los Angeles is certainly the highest of all their recent international signings.

Certainly, there are health concerns with Kikuchi, as he has battled shoulder injuries his entire career dating back to 2010, when he missed the entire season. Since then however, he has never missed serious time. Though injury history needs to be observed and evaluated, Kikuchi is unlikely to command the payday of an ace. With the Dodgers future to be unknown in terms of committing a big contract to anyone on the open market, they certainly will be able to afford the potential risk but high reward nature of a contract for an international star who is ready to make a big league impact immediately.

Ian Nielson has served as a writer and contributor for @DodgersLowDown since 2018. Follow him on twitter @inielson23