Throughout the playoffs (and the regular season), the Red Sox’ starting pitching was a major factor, whether being used in a traditional starter’s role or in some sort of relief role. The acquisition of Nathan Eovaldi proved to be key, and he was a stud in every series, most notably during his Game 3 heroics during the World Series. However, Eovaldi is currently a free agent, and although is presumably one of the Red Sox’ top priorities, a lot of other teams are looking at him as well. Fortunately for Boston, there are definitely other interesting arms on the market.
Yusei Kikuchi, a 27 year-old left-handed starting pitcher from Japan, was posted by the Seibu Lions on November 5, and quickly became one of the most intriguing free agents on the market. Kikuchi has already compiled over 1000 innings over 8 professional seasons, dominating to the tune of a 2.81 ERA and 925 strikeouts. He has a deep arsenal, throwing a slider, curveball, and splitter to go with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. He doesn’t project as a surefire ace like other Japanese pitchers Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanka did, but has the potential to be a solid number 2 in a big-league rotation and should at least settle in as a guy who can be a solid rotation piece on a good team..
Kikuchi does have a few drawbacks that should be mentioned, however. He’s had recurring shoulder issues that have caused him to miss all of the 2010 season, a majority of the 2013 season, and even some time this year. Also, having thrown over 1000 innings already in his career, some of his prime years are potentially behind him, and his durability is a legitimate question. There are also concerns about how his stuff will translate from Japan to the big leagues, as the hitters in the U.S. are more capable of hitting non-elite stuff. The NPB is certainly a talented league, but it’s not the majors, and even beyond talent it is a different style of baseball. That being said, it’s also important to bring up that pitchers Miles Mikolas and Kenta Maeda had similar questions about their transition from Japan to the bigs, and they have fared quite well thus far.
Another major question is how expensive Kikuchi will be. Fangraphs estimates his contract will be in the range of 4-5 years for about $9-14 million per year, but he is a Boras client, and well, we all know what that means. Is he worth that price range? I would say possibly, but in the case of the Red Sox, I wouldn’t expect them to pursue another left-handed starter, and a righty like Eovaldi seems to be the better fit (and the fan favorite). The Red Sox were reported to be in attendance of one of Yusei’s starts in late September, but it remains to be seen how much interest they have, and whether they’d be willing to take a risk on the young lefty. Starting pitching is needed across the league, and Kikuchi is sure to generate some buzz. He’s likely not the top target for the Red Sox, but he’s at least in the conversation for Plans B or C.