The Baltimore Orioles won’t sign Yusei Kikuchi, but they should try
Yusei Kikuchi, the Japanese lefty from Nippon Professional Baseball, has landed in Los Angeles and will begin meeting with potential suitors. The Baltimore Orioles almost certainly won’t sign him, but what if they tried?
The Baltimore Orioles have at least two open spots in the major league rotation, and potentially a third depending on whether they move Alex Cobb. There’s no doubt that adding Yusei Kikuchi would help the Orioles, regardless of how unlikely them signing him might be.
Kikuchi has spent eight seasons in NPB, all with the Seibu Lions. He has four plus pitches: a mid to upper-90’s fastball, a curve, a slider and a splitter. He can throw all four for strikes, shown in his career 8.0 K/9 in over 1,035 innings.
When he’s been healthy, Kikuchi has been very effective. He has a career 2.81 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP, and a 2.43 K/BB rate. In 2017, his 187.2 innings led NPB and he finished with a 1.97 ERA.
Kikuchi isn’t viewed as an ace in the same way that Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish were when they came over to MLB from NPB, but he’s only a tick below them. He’s 27 and entering MLB free agency in his prime.
Kikuchi hired Scott Boras for his transition into MLB, which will ensure that he gets the maximum possible contract. MLB Trade Rumors projected 6 years and $42 million, but don’t be surprised if a couple teams get into a bidding war over him and the total pushes closer to $50 million.
January 2nd is the final day for negotiations based on NPB’s posting system, and per an article from Sports Nippon Sponichi Annex, “Based on the wishes of Kikuchi, Mr. Borus [sic] is expected to continue negotiations until the closing day to bring out the best conditions”.
Kikuchi will wait until the deadline to sign. Where he goes is anyone’s guess at this point, but he’s drawn interest from several clubs, notably not the Orioles.
Kikuchi’s presence would bolster the Orioles rotation significantly, as it would take some weight off the O’s relying on the likes of Jimmy Yacabonis, Josh Rogers and Luis Ortiz next year. But there’s almost no chance the Orioles try to sign Kikuchi, for several reasons.
The Orioles haven’t spent much on international scouting recently and likely don’t have much of anything in terms of scouting on Kikuchi. They almost certainly won’t be willing to spend $50 million on any free agents this year, and Kikuchi likely isn’t interested in signing with the Orioles.
But with Mike Elias’ background in scouting, specifically on the international side, we should be in for a change in the near future. There will always be misses in the free agent market, but if the Orioles aren’t willing to spend, like in the past, and specifically on the international side, they’re missing out on a massive talent pool.
Kikuchi will sign elsewhere but don’t be surprised when the Orioles are making moves for pitchers like him in the near future.