The Seattle Mariners have been tearing down their major league roster this winter, so it was a modest surprise to hear they’d won the bidding for NPB star Yusei Kikuchi, posted this winter by the Seibu Lions, as he’s ready right now and could help a team looking to contend in 2019. He may not push the Mariners toward a playoff berth any time soon, but he should make them a better team this season, and if he comes close to the performance he showed in Japan he should provide a nice boost for the team at the gate as well.
Kikuchi was one of the best pitchers in NPB as recently as 2017, when he led the Pacific League in ERA and innings pitched while finishing second in strikeouts, and even in an off year in 2018 still showed above-average stuff. He was sitting at 92-93 mph last year, touching 96-97 but no longer pitching there, with a plus slider and two more offspeed pitches at or near average, with above-average control. His last two seasons in NPB were the best of his career as he has walked fewer batters and struck out more, while also posting his two highest innings-pitched totals. It’s No. 2 starter stuff if he stays healthy.