Around this time last year, the LA Angels were the lucky team chosen by Shohei Ohtani. One year into his career, Ohtani has changed the Halos’ franchise, and now they could land another Japanese ace.
No, the LA Angels won’t be getting another two-way phenom of the Ohtani-variety. Yusei Kikuchi won’t be hitting home runs anytime soon, but he may just be the best free agent pitcher available this winter. With the Angels striking out on reuniting with Patrick Corbin, Kikuchi needs to be their top priority this winter.
In 2018, Kikuchi had a down year. However, his down year was still a 3.08 ERA with 8.4 K/9. With his career ERA sitting at 2.81, Kikuchi is one of the better Japanese pitchers we’ve seen be posted in some time. For comparison, Ohtani had a 2.52 ERA during his time in Japan, while Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka posted ERA’s of 1.99 and 2.30, respectively.
Kikuchi is probably just a peg below those three pitchers, and projects as No. 2 starter in the MLB. He has three pitchers that are above-average, and can strike out hitters no matter what side of the plate they hit from.
Kikuchi won’t see the huge deals given out to Tanaka and Darvish, but he is a very desirable player. At only 27-years old, nearly every West Coast team will be in on Kikuchi, and for the Angels, he could be the crown jewel of their offseason.
With Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney leading the rotation into 2019, the addition of Kikuchi could solidify the front of their rotation for years to come. The trio of lefties could be among the best in the league should they stay healthy, and with Jaime Barria and Griffing Canning both young righties on the rise, the rotation could form into one of the deepest in baseball.
Now, landing Yusei Kikuchi will be a tall task. There are a lot of factors that make signing him difficult, as a large part of the MLB is expected to have interest in the Japanese ace. The key for the Angels to sign him would be landing an interview, as Billy Eppler can work magic in any interview (his interview with Ohtani is what took the Angels from longshots to sign him to landing the AL Rookie of the Year).
Another factor is that Kikuchi’s agent is Scott Boras. The top agent in baseball does not currently work for any Angels, and the Angels don’t have a history of signing Boras clients. They always get overpaid and have contracts that are a few years too long, but Kikuchi could end up being worth the risk of overpay.
Overall, the Angels need to make a splash move. Not just for 2019, but for the future of Mike Trout. If he doesn’t see the front office trying to make improvements this offseason, why would he bother staying after 2020? And hey, it might be nice for Shohei Ohtani to rejoin his former Japanese teammate in Kikuchi, but this time about 5,300 miles away, in Anaheim.