In an article that came out earlier this month by the Bleacher Report, they took an insightful look at one player from every MLB team that would most likely be traded during the 2023-24 offseason. Shockingly, the candidate chosen from the Toronto Blue Jays was none other than Yusei Kikuchi. You read that right, the same Yusei Kikuchi that has been probably the Jays’ best starter for the second half of the season thus far was projected to be on the trade block once the season is done.
In retrospect, if this prediction was proposed last year around the same time, then many would have probably agreed that they were right on point. For 2022, in his first season with the Jays, Kikuchi certainly had a year he certainly would like to forget. Coming off an All-Star season with the Seattle Mariners in 2021, Kikuchi was expected to help solidify the Jays’ back end of the rotation. However, he struggled mightily throughout the entire season, leading to his 6-7 record with a 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, giving up 58 earned runs including 23 home runs, 58 walks and 124 strikeouts over just 100.2 innings pitched. It had gotten so bad that he was even relegated to the bullpen in the final few weeks of the season. So perhaps a change of scenery could have been beneficial for him in the long run.
But of course that was then, this is now. Kikuchi has been a massive asset this year for the Jays and may even be contending for Comeback Player of the Year. Whether it was the change in MLB rules with the implementation of the pitch clock, or the magic of hitting coach Pete Walker once again, Kikuchi has been a totally different pitcher and has been front-and-center leading the Jays to many victories in 2023. For the season, he has posted a stellar 9-4 record with a 3.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, giving up 56 earned runs, 38 walks and 146 strikeouts in 139 innings of work.
Even more impressive has been his elite performance since the All-Star break, as Kikuchi has been one of the top pitchers in the entire league during this stretch. In seven starts prior to Sunday’s game, he sported a strong 1.82 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .230 opponents batting average, giving up only eight earned runs, zero home runs, nine walks and 42 strikeouts in 39.2 innings pitched. In doing so, the team had gone 5-2 in the games in which he started. No doubt he has been one of the team’s MVP so far in the second half of the season.
So to say he will most likely be traded by the Jays this offseason sounds more like they just wanted to give the Jays’ faithful a good chuckle. The Bleacher Report article also claimed that the Jays have more than enough pitching on hand to withstand the loss of Kikuchi. This sounds even more outrageous, considering the fact that practically everyone in Jays land knows that they already lack starting pitching depth in their organization. As a result, dealing Kikuchi and his value $12 million AAV contract away at the conclusion of the 2023 season just makes absolutely no sense.
Nevertheless, after such a turnaround season, Kikuchi will definitely be a necessary and valuable asset for the ballclub heading into the 2024 season, and we are definitely here for it.