Should the San Diego Padres go after Japanese superstar Yusei Kikuchi next offseason? The Athletic’s Dennis Lin believes Kasuhisa Makita can help sign him if the Padres are interested.
Last week, Dennis Lin of The Athletic published this article ($) highlighting the relationship between current San Diego Padres reliever Kazuhisa Makita and Yusei Kikuchi, the top starting pitcher in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.
For those who don’t subscribe to The Athletic, Makita believes that Kikuchi can be a crucial piece of the yet to be completed Padres’ World Series puzzle.
"“When I decided to post and come over here, I told Kikuchi, ‘I’ll be taking off first, but I’ll be seeing you here,’” Makita said through interpreter Kenji Aoshima. “… I really do hope that he comes to the Padres. I think he’d be a big piece to help us move forward to achieving a World Series title.”"
Kikuchi, 26, could command a contract upwards of $100 million this offseason. He’s the most elite pitcher in the Pacific League and has finally settled into his role as ace of the Seibu Lions. In 2017, Kikuchi posted a 16-6 record with a 1.97 ERA. In a career-high 187 innings, he posted a 0.91 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 (217 total), and a drastically improved 2.3 BB/9.
Should the San Diego Padres pursue Kikuchi?
According to those who closely follow the NPB, Kikuchi was expected to become the first Japanese player to forego the NPB draft and sign with a Major League Baseball team. He ultimately decided to hone his craft in Japan.
I’m not going to deny that he is a fantastic pitcher. Kikuchi features a four-pitch mix (fastball, slider, change, and curveball). He holds the NPB record for fastest pitch by a left-hander, just over 98 mph. His slider is the strikeout pitch that has commanded the most attention.
You can see his repertoire on display in this video, including that lethal slider.
Injuries have routinely held him back from reaching his full potential since his NPB debut in 2011. He missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury. The shoulder issues returned in 2013, causing him to miss two months.
Injuries aside, in 2017 Kikuchi showed the world what he’s capable of. He allowed a career-low 5.9 hits/9 innings, and cut the number of walks allowed in half compared to 2016.
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Current Fangraphs contributor Sung Min Kim said last year that the Seibu Lions will post Kikuchi after the 2018 season, should he record double-digit wins in ’17 and ’18.
If Kikuchi is posted after this season, he will be 27 and in the prime of his career. The international bonus pool system rules won’t apply, meaning an unlimited bidding war is sure to break out. If he posts a similar, or even better, season than he did last year in Japan, the winner may find themselves paying well-above the $100 million mark.
A large portion of Padres’ fans have been adamant about “sticking to the plan” since the signing of Eric Hosmer. Don’t be tricked into thinking that the Friars are instant World Series contenders in 2019 with Hosmer and one big starting pitcher. Dedicating more than $100 million to Kikuchi, plus $15-20 million posting fee to the Seibu Lions (depends on final contract amount) just isn’t worth it.
San Diego has numerous pitching prospects that the organization believes will be major league contributors. Let’s give these guys a shot and hope they live up to the hype.
Would I be mad if the Padres went after Kikuchi? Not if the price is right, however, if the Padres want to upgrade their pitching staff with proven talent, there will be cheaper, more proven options in next year’s class without the injury history or enormous price tag inflated by a bidding war.