Blue Jays to sign Yusei Kikuchi

Blue Jays sign left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, by Jon Heyman of MLB Network. This is a three-year, $36 million contract. (Twitter connections) The transaction is anticipated, by Bob Nightengale of USA Todaywith Kikuchi earning a salary of $16 million in 2022, followed by $10 million in 2023 and 2024.

Starting to pitch has been in short supply this offseason, with most big names signing before the lockout. Now that the trading freeze has thawed, the market has picked up where it left off. The two top free agent pitchers who lingered in the market during lockdown, Clayton Kershaw and Charles Rodon, signed on the first full day after the lockdown ended. This left Kikuchi and Zack Greinke as the only healthy starters remaining on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list. With the Jays picking up Kikuchi, that leaves Greinke as the last man standing.

Kikuchi has been one of the toughest pitchers to rate since arriving from Japan ahead of the 2019 season. In his first season in MLB, he made 32 starts for the Mariners, pitching 161 2/3 innings with an ERA of 5.46 and a strikeout rate of just 16.1%. In the shortened 2020 campaign, he made nine starts and still had a high 5.11 ERA, but made huge strides in the strikeouts department, bumping his rate to 24.2%.

2021 has been the story of two seasons for Kikuchi as the first half of his campaign has been great. In early July, MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote about Kikuchi’s season around the midpoint, when Kikuchi had made 15 starts and was sitting on a 3.18 ERA, 25.4 percent strikeout rate, a walk rate of 8.5% and a ground ball rate of 53.8%. But things went completely in the opposite direction in the second half of the season, as Kikuchi pitched 63 2/3 innings from then on, with a 6.22 ERA, 23 strikeout rate. .3%, a walk rate of 10.3% and a ground ball rate of 41.7%. .

Under Kikuchi’s unusual contract structure, at the end of the season the Mariners then had to decide whether to execute a series of four one-year options valued at $16.5 million each, or $66 million over four years. extension that would cover the 2022-25 seasons. After refusing, Kikuchi could have selected a one-year, $13 million player option for 2022. he ultimately declined and tested the free agent. Marlet. It now turned out to be a wise move on his part, as he earned himself a new contract at that exact rate but three times as long.

The Blue Jays were obviously encouraged enough by Kikuchi’s strengths to ignore his weaknesses, much like they were with Robbie Ray and steven matz. While both of these pitchers have serious flaws in their respective resumes, they both had great campaigns with the Jays in 2021, with Ray winning the American League’s Cy Young Award. Although Ray and Matz will both be wearing new uniforms this year, Kikuchi will still be joining a strong rotation. The club also added Kevin Gausman before the lockout, join Joseph Bays, Hyun Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah. It will probably be the first five of the club, but they also Ross Striplin on hand, who could work either as a starter or as a longman out of the bullpen. Nate Pearson could potentially join the rotation at some point, although he has durability issues after pitching just 18 innings in 2020 and just 45 2/3 in 2021.

Post-lockdown, the 2022 season will feature condensed spring training and a regular season with additional double-headers to make up for the delayed start to the campaign. These factors, combined with dwindling options in the free agent market, led the Jays to take a risk in building depth with a pitcher who had flashes of excellence but also specific concerns.

In terms of the structure of the deal, it’s worth pointing out that the Blue Jays also preloaded their contract with George Springer. It seems like a way to take advantage of the fact that most of the club’s core players are still going through arbitration and will only get more and more expensive in the years to come. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is eligible for arbitration for the first time this year as a Super Two player. Theoscar Hernandez will play his second of three officiating seasons in 2022. Bo Bichette and Jordan Romano will not be eligible for arbitration until next year. By paying Springer and Kikuchi more now, the club will have a bit more leeway to deal with the increased salaries of these players in future seasons.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.