Red Sox Rumors: Yusei Kikuchi available via posting system beginning Tuesday morning
By Sean Penney
Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi will be available for teams to negotiate with beginning tomorrow morning. Should the Boston Red Sox be interested?
The Seibu Lions of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball will soon post ace Yusei Kikuchi, at which point he’ll be among the most desirable pitchers on the market. The Boston Red Sox are among the teams that have scouted Kikuchi and while that doesn’t necessarily mean they will make an offer, a talent of his caliber warrants consideration.
The New York Post’s Jole Sherman reports that Kikuchi will be available via the posting system beginning Tuesday, December 4 at 8:00 a.m. EST.
The posting process between NPB and MLB has changed from previous years. Under the new rules, all 30 teams will have a 30-day window to negotiate with Kikuchi. The release fee paid to the Lions will now be based on the size of the contract that Kikuchi signs with his new team.
Beyond the actual contract given to Kikuchi, his new team will need to pay a release fee. The rules are a bit complex but the gist of it is that the fee is equal to 20 percent of the first $25 million of the deal, plus 17.5 percent of the next $25 million of the contract, plus another 15 percent of anything beyond $50 million. The Lions will also receive a sum equal to 15 percent of any non-guaranteed money that Kikuchi eventually earns.
Those fees escalate quickly. Not only will Kikuchi expect to be paid a comparable salary to his peers, but the posting fee tacked on to that contract will make some teams shy about pursuing him. The Red Sox have deep pockets but they have their limits. They already had MLB’s highest payroll in 2018 and paid steep luxury tax penalties for it. They may do the same next year, depending on the moves they make in free agency this winter. Do they really want to add this expense to their budget?
The cost is excessive yet the talent remains appealing. Kikuchi was dominant in 2017 when he posted a 1.97 ERA and struck out 217 batters in 187 2/3 innings. He wasn’t quite as sharp this year but still posted a very respectable 3.08 ERA and stuck out 153 batters in 163 2/3 innings. A sore shoulder that cost him a few starts may partially explain the decline and the overall body of work remains impressive.
There’s always the question of how success in Japan will translate to MLB. Red Sox fans surely remember a time when Daisuke Matsuzaka was supposed to be the next big thing. Dice-K never lived up to the hype or the enormous posting fee the Red Sox paid under the old blind auction process.
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That may make Boston hesitant to go all in on another pitcher from Japan but we have seen more recent examples of pitchers who thrived in the majors after coming from overseas. Miles Mikolas reinvented himself in Japan and returned after several years away from MLB to win 18 games for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier followed a similar path to salvage his career.
There’s still risk involved in paying for a pitcher who has never performed on this stage but Kikuchi is expected to have no shortage of suitors. The 27-year old is younger than the other top starting pitchers on the market, making him an option for contenders as well as teams building for the future.
Boston potentially has an open rotation spot but may be more inclined to offer it to free agent Nathan Eovaldi. Both he and Kikuchi project as middle of the rotation starters but the Red Sox would be better off betting on the known commodity. We know Eovaldi can thrive in this market and in the postseason. While he may demand a more lucrative contract than Kikuchi, the expenses shouldn’t be too far off when you factor in the posting fee.
Kikuchi may be a solid backup plan if the Red Sox fail to retain Eovaldi but if the money ends up being similar then it’s hard to imagine they’ll let the postseason hero get away. That would seem to make Kikuchi a long shot to wind up in Boston but it will be interesting to see how the team reacts to the Japanese star being posted tomorrow.