There was a time early on this season that Yusei Kikuchi was a lock to earn the team option that he has in his contract. If it is to be accepted he is a Seattle Mariner for four more years. But unfortunately for Kikuchi, that opportunity seems to be gone now even though he was an All-Star.
The Japanese-born pitcher arrived in Seattle in 2019, at the age of 28. An age at which one would think is the prime. Though that year, Kikuchi was one of the worst starters in the league. In 2019, Kikuchi went 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA through 161.2 innings. That year he was in the bottom 8% of the league in strikeout percentage. As well as 20 points below average in terms of ERA+. He had also given up the 3rd most home runs and 8th most hits across the MLB.
Yusei Kikuchi has not gotten much better either. He is still a below average pitcher in terms of ERA+. Currently sitting at a 95 this season, which is continually getting worse in last couple of starts. (League Average ERA+ is 100).
WHY MOVING ON MAKES SENSE FOR SEATTLE?
Due to the structure of the contract, the Mariners would have to accept all four years at one time or they can decline the team options, which then become a player option, and Kikuchi would have the ability to accept that one-year option.
With Mariners Prospects Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, and Brandon Williamson on the rise very quickly as well as Marco Gonzales pitching like an Ace the past couple of seasons, and Chris Flexen pitching like a very good established veteran. There is just no room for Kikuchi unless you move him to the bullpen. Though the Mariners will be loaded there next year with guys Ken Giles, Andres Munoz, Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald, Yohan Ramirez, and Anthony Misiewicz. Plus you already have two long relief options that need to be chosen from in Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. The Mariners also seem to be in a spot where spending money on an Ace like Marcus Stroman. Logan Gilbert should improve upon his first big-league season as well.
Why Shouldn’t The Mariners Move On?
There is always a chance that Yusei Kikuchi builds off of the year in which he was an All-Star and he could become a really good 5th or 6th starter for the Mariners.
The Mariners have always had a Japanese player on the roster; Mac Suzuki (1996, 1998-99), Shigetoshi Hasegawa (2002-05), Masao Kida (2004-05), Kazahiro Sasaki (2000-2003), Ichiro Suzuki (2001-2012, 2018-19), Kenji Johjima (2006-09), Nori Aoki (2016), Munenori Kawasaki (2012), Hisashi Iwakuma (2012-2017).
There are several ways for the Mariners to go in terms of Japanese player, if they desire to have one. You could keep Kikuchi or go after a different player. Out of the Japanese players the Mariners have had on their rosters, Kikuchi is middle to bottom of the pack.
Due to the progression of so much great talent in the Mariners system already and where the team is at competitively, they do not have another year to wait and see if Kikuchi will turn into something good. Therefore the Mariners will more than likely decline the options on Yusei Kikuchi. At this stage in his career, he is not worth $66 Million over four years.
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