Yusei Kikuchi, one of the most profoundly talented free-agents available this offseason, eventually ended up signing with the Seattle Mariners.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet confirmed the report, saying that the team was “clearly intrigued” by Kikuchi, noting that the organization “did their share of background work”.
Previously, it was suggested, both by Nicholson-Smith and his Sportsnet colleague Shi Davidi, that the team had legitimate interest in signing him, seeing as the team did, per Davidi, plan to meet up with his agent Scott Boras when they held meetings with interested clubs in Los Angeles near the end of the December.
Prior to signing with the Mariners, it had been reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Angels, the San Diego Padres, and the Oakland Athletics were in on him, with “several other teams” showing interest in his services, per Heyman.
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Kikuchi, who turns 28 in June, spent the 2018 season with the Saitama Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball, pitching to an ERA of 3.24 in 163.2 innings, striking out 153 and walking just 45.
In 2017, the native of Morioka pitched to an insane ERA of 1.97, tossing 187.2 innings, boasting a WHIP of 1.033 and 217 strikeouts to go along with 14 wins and six(!) complete games (four of them shutouts) in 26 starts.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins did not mention Kikuchi’s name outright in recent public appearances, though he did, in various periods of availability, mention that the team is looking for improvements to their pitching staff.
According to David Adler of MLB.com, Kikuchi hopes to pitch in MLB’s 2019 Japan Series, which will feature his new club taking on the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome.