Credible sources are reporting that the Seibu Lions will allow their star southpaw starter, Yusei Kikuchi, to post this winter. What posting means is that Kikuchi will be eligible to sign with an MLB team, the same as a free agent would. The NPB has a rule in effect which keeps players from posting for their first 10 seasons. However, teams can choose to waive that at their own discretion. In the past, Japanese teams have allowed players to leave early so they could gain monetary compensation to help rebuild, or even keep a team operational, as was the case when Yu Darvish posted.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the 27-year-old lefty will be posting two years early. Kikuchi expressed interest in signing directly with an MLB club in 2009, completely skipping playing in the NPB, but relented and followed the traditional route instead. He expressed interest in posting after the 2017 season, which was his best on record, but Seibu declined to accommodate him. In 2018, he had another strong showing, although his numbers were slightly down. Nonetheless, Kikuchi immediately becomes one of the most interesting free agents on the market this winter, and potentially one of the top five pitchers available.
Scouts from Yankees, SF Giants, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Brewers and Rangers were in hand to watch #SeibuLions lefty Yusei Kikuchi—who is expected to be posted this winter.
— Jim Allen (@JballAllen) September 28, 2018
The teams that appear to have the most interest in Kikuchi are the Dodgers, Red Sox, Phillies, and Giants, with a few others including the Padres and Yankees kicking the tires, according to Jon Heyman at Fancred. Kikuchi is mostly compared to Patrick Corbin stuff-wise, but he relies on throwing his curve a bit more. Still, the combination of his fastball and slider is seen as top of the rotation type stuff, and he has shown that he can rack up strikeouts at a rate of almost one per inning over a season.
While stats such as ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP don’t always translate evenly when coming from the NPB to the MLB, even with some drop-off, Kikuchi is seen as at least a number two starter for most teams, three at worst. The one problem he has that may keep him from being signed in the $100 million range that MLB Trade Rumors thought he could fetch back in the spring, is that he now has durability questions after reported shoulder problems this year.
Seibu Lions left-hander Yusei Kikuchi will be made available to major league teams through the posting system this winter, according to Sankei Sports: https://t.co/qzQReM1Zw3
— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) October 1, 2018
As such, it is believed most teams will shy away from spending too much on him or giving out a lengthy contract. MLB Trade Rumors did discuss the option of using Kikuchi every sixth start, or on a five-start schedule, but with a limited pitch count as one-way teams might be able to get extra mileage out of him. Per the new agreement between the two professional leagues, this year the posting fee to NPB teams will be based on the size of the contract a player receives, capped at $20 million. Also, players must now be posted between November 1 and December 5, with a 30-day window to sign a deal after being posted.