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Toronto Blue Jays, Yusei Kikuchi Agree to a Three-Year Deal

The veteran left-hander had an up-and-down season for the Seattle Mariners in 2021.

Yusei Kikuchi became a free agent after the 2021 MLB season, and now he’s ready to make a new start with a new team.

The 30-year-old southpaw starter has reached an agreement on a three-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, according to published reports over the weekend.

Kikuchi spent the past three seasons in the Seattle Mariners starting rotation, compiling a 15-24 overall record in 70 starts. He logged 365⅔ innings for Seattle, walking 132 batters and striking out 326.

The Blue Jays and Kikuchi put the finishing touches on a $36 million USD (¥4.21 billion JPY) a few months after the Iwate Prefecture native declined a one-year player option with the Marines for this year, thus making him a free agent.

Kikuchi is now slated to join a Blue Jays starting rotation with Jose Berrios, fellow newcomer Kevin Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu and Alex Manoah. 

For Toronto, the addition of Kikuchi may help upgrade the rotation after former Blue Jays lefty starter Robbie Ray, who went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA in 2021, signed with the Mariners in the offseason. 

Kikuchi was selected to the American League All-Star team for the first time last season. He went 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 16 starts before the All-Streak break, but didn’t pitch in the Midsummer Classic after being reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list.

He won one game after the All-Star break.

Still, he had his best overall MLB season in 2021, finishing with a 7-9 record and a 4.41 ERA in 29 starts with 163 strikeouts and an MLB career-high 157 innings pitched.

“Yusei pitched at All-Star levels for his first 120 innings,” Scott Boras, Kikuchi’s agent, said at the MLB general managers’ meetings in November, according to The Seattle Times. “I think all teams understand the fatigue ― because he went from literally 50 innings to 120 and then to 150 innings. Those innings jumps just caused fatigue. And you can see that in his last five or six starts that Yusei was not the Yusei we know.”

Is Kikuchi a good fit for the Blue Jays?

Time will tell. But considering the fact that the rival New York Yankees are paying star hurler Gerrit Cole $328 million USD over nine years, Kikuchi’s new contract is a minor investment.

Armed with a 95-mph (153-kph) fastball and the ability to mix in a cutter, curveball and change-up to keep hitters off-balance, Kikuchi has a nice mix of pitches.

Kikuchi went 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA in his MLB debut season in 2019, then had a 2-4 record in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.

In nine seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions (2011-18), he had a 73-46 record with a 2.77 ERA.

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.


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