A potential addition to the Yankees’ rotation is set to hit the market Tuesday morning, but it’s not clear how aggressively the club will pursue Japanese star Yusei Kikuchi.
Though managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner mentioned the 27-year-old lefthander, set to be posted Tuesday, as a possible target when he spoke to the media during last month’s owners’ meetings, several opposing team Pacific Rim scouts said the Yankees’ interest didn’t seem to be at the level it was for Masahiro Tanaka.
“They were on him [Tanaka] since he was in high school,” one scout said. “It wasn’t close to that with [Kikuchi].”
Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155-million contract with the Yankees before the 2014 season.
Another Pacific Rim talent evaluator said teams such as the Dodgers, Rangers, Giants and Mariners, who are in the middle of a massive roster overhaul, scouted Kikuchi more extensively than the Yankees did.
“And for me,” the scout added, “he’s [Kikuchi] not in the same class as Tanaka.”
Indications are free-agent lefthander Patrick Corbin, who visited with the Yankees last week, remains the top offseason target, with lefty J.A. Happ, mostly terrific after being acquired at the trade deadline, not far behind.
None of the above, of course, means the Yankees, still looking to add a starter or two even after re-signing CC Sabathia and trading for the Mariners’ James Paxton, won’t end up with Kikuchi. He has consistently put up good numbers the last eight seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball.
Kikuchi has gone 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA in 158 games (153 starts), including 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 163 2⁄3 innings in 23 starts this past season. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s but occasionally hits 98 mph. According to some scouts, his best pitch is his slider.
Interested teams can start negotiating with Kikuchi and his agent, Scott Boras, at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The amount of guaranteed money in whatever contract Kikuchi signs will determine what his Japanese club will receive as a release fee from his new MLB club. According to MLB.com, the Seibu Lions will receive 20 percent of the first $25 million of his contract, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million and 15 percent of any amount above $50 million. Additional money could be transferred to the Lions if the contract includes any bonuses or salary escalators.
The deadline to sign Kikuchi is Jan. 2.