Over the course of three seasons with the Mariners (2019-2021), Yusei Kikuchi has gone 15-24, with a 4.97 ERA and 1.403 WHIP. This offseason, Seattle has the option to extend a 4-year, $66 million contract to Kikuchi, but it’s almost certain that won’t happen; Kikuchi’s career numbers, plus his removal from the starting rotation at the end of this season, seem to spell a loss of faith in Kikuchi from Mariners management.
The kicker with Kikuchi’s contract, though, is that he is eligible to pick up a 1-year, $13 million contract to play in Seattle again next season. While that may seem like an obvious decision for Kikuchi, there are a couple of factors at play that could sway him not to pick up the option:
For one, Kikuchi could believe in his abilities so much that he would be willing to forgo the one-year contract with the Mariners, and choose to elect free agency; he was, after all, Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. Pitching is always a need throughout MLB, so another team could be interested in taking a gamble on him and giving him a multi-year deal.
Second – the possibility always remains that Kikuchi will choose to head back to Japan and play in the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball). Masahiro Tanka (formerly of the Yankees), is the highest paid player in NPB, making $8.28 million per year; if Kikuchi signed on in Japan, he could ink a multi-year deal that could set him up better than signing a one-year deal in Seattle.
Ultimately, I don’t believe Kikuchi will be in Seattle next season, because even if he does end up picking up his player option, the Mariners will likely put out feelers for him on the trade market. Kikuchi does not factor into Seattle’s plans for next season, so even if they need to eat some of his contract money, they will jump at the chance to save money for potential free agent spending while also opening up a roster spot.