Blue Jays: Imagining the pitch to Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi
The Blue Jays have expressed interest in Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, but just like with Shohei Ohtani, the team will need to make a presentation to the pitcher and his agent. What should the Blue Jays say in trying to persuade him to take his talents to Canada?
This year’s free-agent class is already shaping up to be one of the more complicated and intricate in recent memory. With former franchise anchors hitting the open market to join new teams, the makeup of Major League Baseball has the potential to shift dramatically over the next few weeks (or even months).
With that said, there is one unconventional name that has graced the reports of some of baseball’s most respected insiders: Yusei Kikuchi. The Japanese southpaw, who spent the 2018 season with the Saitama Seibu Lions of the Japan Pacific League, is represented by American super-agent Scott Boras. According to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays will be among the teams that’ll be meeting with and presenting to, Kikuchi and Boras in late December in Los Angeles, California.
The question is, what will they say? Or, perhaps even more importantly, what should they say? Of course, no one truly knows the answers to those two potentially team-altering enigmas, but it’s certainly worth diving into for the sake of speculation and analysis. Just for fun, let us try and deduce what the Blue Jays front office, presumably represented at the L.A. meeting by Mark Shapiro, will say to Kikuchi and the Blue Jay-hating Scott Boras.
Kikuchi – A Staple of Consistency
Before even trying to predict the nature of the dialogue that will take place between the two sides, it’s important to look at who exactly the team is dealing with. Who exactly is Yusei Kikuchi?
Kikuchi, 27, has been playing in the Japan Pacific League since his age 20 season, 2011. Since then, he’s racked up 1011.1 innings, over 900 strikeouts, and has kept his career ERA to a ludicrous 2.81. While his career WHIP sits at a somewhat solid 1.177, he has been one of Japan’s brightest arms since he really kicked it into high gear during the 2013 season, when he earned the first of three NPB All-Star nods. In addition, he also led the Pacific League in ERA (1.97) and wins (16) in 2017.
In short, he’s a stupidly reliable left-handed starting pitcher who has years of experience despite only being 27. While there’s no guarantee he’ll immediately flourish when he comes to North America, it’s hard to imagine him struggling for long.
Toronto – A Multicultural Haven
For any residents of Toronto, it should come as no surprise that the city is home to numerous diverse cultural groups that make “the Six” one of the more immigrant-friendly areas to settle in.
For Kikuchi, it could be important to be surrounded by a wide range of individuals to reduce the effect of a potential culture shock. It’s impossible to know just how much of a factor this will be on his decision-making process, but the Blue Jays front office should do their best to leverage the incredible innate diversity that the city of Toronto oozes from every pore.
The Blue Jays – A Contender in the Making
Promoting the disappointing 2018 season would be a surefire way to extinguish any interest Kikuchi might’ve had in coming to Toronto. Luckily for the Jays though, there are better seasons in the making.
While this might seem like a weak point to make, the Blue Jays do have one of the brighter futures in the American League. The prospects that are coming up are sure to make a difference on the world’s biggest stage and it should be enticing for a pitcher who wants to gain a solid footing in the big leagues.
2019 – A Season of Unlimited Innings
Though this point is more or less tied to the previous one, it is still worth mentioning, even if only as a side note.
The 2019 Blue Jays have, as of right now, two, potentially three, solid starters for the season. Should Kikuchi join the mix, he could easily slide into the No. 1 spot. Whether his performance during the 2018 NPB season warrants that or not is a decision for the front office (and new manager Charlie Montoyo) to make. Should he want it, Kikuchi could pitch almost as much as he wants, without the fear of being shafted for a more promising or important pitcher. He would be their guy.
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Coaching – A New Approach to Pitching
The new Blue Jays coaching staff, which includes former major leaguers Shelley Duncan and Matt Buschmann, should be one of the more progressive and modern in the American League. Though their roles have likely not been completely cemented, the coaching staff, under new manager Charlie Montoyo, is poised to be one of the more unique groups in the league.
Perhaps the new coaching staff could implement new strategies that would better suit new pitchers? While it’s never a good idea to change strategic philosophies to accommodate a single player, the team should, if they do want to attract international talent, adopt an open-minded approach to coaching, something that Kikuchi would likely find quite attractive when selecting a team.
Concluding Thoughts – A Great Place to Be
For residents of Toronto and surrounding areas, the city is a fantastic place to set up a life and a career. Still, it’s worth considering that Kikuchi, in recent comments, noted that he would consider signing with any of the 30 MLB teams, so, in a sense, the Blue Jays have just as good a chance as any other suitor, though being farther away from his native Japan may hurt them a tad.
Overall, Yusei Kikuchi, a capable and powerful starting pitcher, would be a welcomed addition almost any team. Blue Jays fans should hope that the front office is able to wow him to the point where he’ll seriously consider coming to this great city that many of us call home.