Red Sox Have Scouted Yusei Kikuchi: Could Boston Sign Japanese Lefty?

The path has been cleared for Yusei Kikuchi to negotiate with Major League Baseball teams. Could the Boston Red Sox be an option for the Japanese pitcher?

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski confirmed Tuesday at the MLB GM Meetings that Boston has scouted Kikuchi, a 27-year-old left-hander who has spent the last eight years pitching for the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League.

“We’ve been doing that for years,” Dombrowski said, per MassLive.com. “He’s a guy who has been a quality pitcher there for a while, so we watch him on a regular basis. Yes, we have a pulse of him.”

Dombrowski declined to comment on the extent of the Red Sox’s interest in Kikuchi. It could be nothing more than Boston doing its due diligence. But Kikuchi is an interesting name to watch in free agency. The Lions agreed this week to post the young southpaw, who wouldn’t have been eligible to file for international free agency until 2020 and therefore needed Seibu’s approval to use the posting system to move to MLB.

Kikuchi went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 153 strikeouts in 23 starts with Seibu in 2018. He won a career-best 16 games and posted a 1.97 ERA in 26 starts in 2017. The lefty projects as a mid-rotation starter in MLB, although he has dealt with shoulder issues over the years and has eclipsed the 163 2/3 innings he tossed this past season only once in his career.

Kikuchi will be the first player subject to the new NPB-MLB posting system, under which a Japanese team posting a player to the majors will receive a fee based on an agreed percentage of the value of the contract, bonuses and incentives, per ESPN.com. All postings by NPB teams must occur between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5, with a 30-day negotiating window to follow.

MLB Trade Rumors ranked Kikuchi at No. 12 on its top 50 free agents list published last weekend and projects he’ll land a six-year, $42 million contract. In that case, the total investment for Kikuchi would be around $50 million, as the $42 million contract would result in a release fee of $7.975 million based on the parameters of the new posting system.

The Red Sox don’t exactly need a starter, as they have Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, Steven Wright and Hector Velazquez all under contract for 2019 — four of whom are left-handed. They also could consider re-signing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and/or left-hander Drew Pomeranz in free agency, although the former is positioned to land a lucrative contract while the latter is coming off a disastrous 2018.

It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox going too hard after Kikuchi, who might draw interest from both contenders and rebuilding clubs, increasing his earning potential in the process. Crazier things have happened, though, and his age and upside make him an intriguing alternative to some other known major league quantities despite the inherent risks that come with signing an international player who’s unproven against big league competition.

Oh, by the way, Kikuchi hired agent Scott Boras to represent him last week. So there’s that.

Thumbnail photo via YouTube screengrab

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