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The Giants are free to pursue Yusei Kikuchi

Does that mean they will and does he even make sense for the team in 2019?

Melbourne Aces v Brisbane Bandits Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images

As of 5am this morning, teams were free to begin negotiating with Japan’s Pacific League pitcher Yusei Kikuchi after his posting by the Seibu Lions became official. You might recall back in September that the Giants were one of the Major League teams seen scouting him at the end of his season.

I said at the time:

Kikuchi turns 28 next June. He’s pitched for the Seibu Lions all nine years of his pro career (though he did split his age-20 year with the Australian League’s Melbourne Aces). He stands out because he can throw 98 mph and his slider has a Randy Johnsonesque bite to it.

The downside is that although he’s listed as 6-0, he’s more 5-11. And undersized power-thrower could be the next Tim Lincecum, but with so many innings already on his arm, it’s hard to imagine any team banking on him being a lefty Lincecum

He’s pitched 1,035.1 innings since 2011 (8 seasons), which is about as many innings as Tim Lincecum pitched from 2007-2011. For another comparison, Madison Bumgarner has pitched 1,517 regular season innings since 2011. Why compare him to the Giants’ top starter?

His delivery features an arm action in which he hides the ball well until the last moment. Hitters have a hard time picking up the release point and recognizing what’s coming.

Now, the deception is great, but what really makes scouts crazy over Kikuchi is the fastball-slider combo. Since I wrote that story, the scouting report on him has changed a bit and he’s now solidly mid-90s with the fastball, but he still works a sharp slider. Observe:

His arsenal is very similar to Patrick Corbin’s and given that he’d be an import, he’d probably cost less overall (the rumored minimum deal for him is 6 years, $125 million) and still be two years younger. BUT —

Kikuchi has a history of shoulder pain, which is probably not what you want to hear when bidding on a free agent, even if he’s just 27 years old (he’ll turn 28 in June). However, top free agent Patrick Corbin has 945.1 innings in six seasons, and he’s nearly two years older than Kikuchi. Does that make Kikuchi worthy of the pursuit even with the injury history?

The Giants still seem interested despite the health risks, and I think they should go for it. All he’ll cost is money and the Giants have that to spare. They should be stockpiling as much under-30 talent as they can. And if he gets injured? Well, the Giants aren’t scheduled to be competitive this year. If he comes over, gets hurt and has to miss the rest of the season, that’ll set him up nicely to help the 2020 or 2021 teams.

He’ll very likely get a five-year deal, and the posting fee to Seibu Lions will be a percentage of that deal.

the release fee for a major-league contract with a guaranteed value of $25 million or less will be 20 percent of the total. For a contract between $25,000,001 and $50 million, the release fee will be 20 percent of the first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the rest. For a contract of $50,000,001 or more, the release fee is 20 percent of the first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the next $25 million plus 15 percent of the total value in excess of $50 million.

Should Kikuchi receive a $100 million guarantee, his signing team would pay the Lions a release fee of roughly $17 million.

That’s a change from the recent flat fee of $20 million to the posting team, which might mean we won’t see a wacky 8-year deal like the one Kenta Maeda got back in 2016:

  • Maeda will receive $150,000 each year for making the opening day active 25-man roster.
  • He will receive $1 million for each of 15 and 20 starts, and $1.5 million for each of 25, 30 and 32 starts.
  • Maeda each year will earn $250,000 for each of 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched, and $750,000 for 200 innings.
  • In addition, Maeda receives a $1 million bonus each time he is traded.

Farhan Zaidi was the Dodgers’ GM at the time and there was way more concern about Maeda’s injury history (he turned 28 at the beginning of his first season with the Dodgers) that necessitated such a risk-covering deal, so you can be sure that if the Giants wind up being Kikuchi’s team, they won’t be too exposed.

But does Kikuchi want to play in San Francisco?

The Giants have a terrible track record of wooing international players and even top of the market free agents. Not a trend worth chasing, but not one that hampers their success. Still, Kikuchi would provide some sizzle during a rebuild.