Should the Blue Jays consider moving Yusei Kikuchi to the bullpen to start the year?

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays are trying to build something special in Toronto. The city needs to experience the glory, and they have a lot of talent.

The Jays haven’t reached the pinnacle since winning back-to-back championships in the early 90s. Many Jays’ fans today haven’t experienced that moment because they either weren’t born or were too young to experience the excitement of seeing their team win it all. One of the ways for them to get to the mountaintop is to have a robust and reliable bullpen. One pitcher that could help the Jays’ bullpen to be better than they already are is Yusei Kikuchi.

Should the Blue Jays consider moving Kikuchi to the bullpen to start the year rather than the rotation?

The Jays should wait until after Spring Training to decide whether Kikuchi should be a full-time reliever for next season. On the other hand, I think it wouldn’t be a wrong move after all.

Should the Blue Jays consider starting the year with Yusei Kikuchi in the bullpen?

Kikuchi did show some promise coming out of the bullpen this last season in low-pressure situations. He earned his first career save against the Boston Red Sox. Kikuchi can throw the fastball, clocking around 95-96 miles per hour and forced flyballs at a 24.0% rate last year. Once he was moved to the bullpen his splits improved on a few fronts, most notably with his strikeouts. He was still a bit wild with his fastball command and struggled with keeping the ball in the yard but there were some improvements once he moved to the bullpen late in the year

If Kikuchi can be effective in one or two innings of relief, he could spend the rest of his tenure with the Jays as a middle relief reliever or potentially as the long-man out of the bullpen if the Jays desire.

Kikuchi signed a 3-year, $36 million contract in March with the Jays. He has two years left on his deal, and the Jays still owe him $20 million for the next two seasons.

Could this move be a possible or negative outcome for the Jays’ rotation? The Blue Jays have José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, and possibly Mitch White who could join their rotation alongside Kikuchi. The club currently has some holes in their starting five with Ross Stripling now a free agent, so unless they find a pitcher or two, it is unlikely Kikuchi moves to the bullpen at all. That could change as the season wears on and some prospects get closer to the MLB stage, but unless the Jays sign or trade for some starting pitching, I would be Kikuchi starts the year in the rotation.

Through 32 games, Kikuchi posted a 6-7 record with a 5.19 ERA and 124 strikeouts in the 2022 season. His ERA has been higher than 4.00, and he has more losses than wins. Turning him into a bullpen arm might change his career for the better. The 31-year-old still has good stuff and using him for a few short innings could solve the problem.