The Texas Rangers scouted more of Yusei Kikuchi’s starts in Japan than they did Shohei Ohtani’s, and concluded that he’s not as good as the Babe Ruth of Japan.
Kikuchi isn’t as good as Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, either, but he’s good enough to pitch in the major leagues and the Rangers will monitor the left-hander as he heads to MLB.
Kikuchi was posted Tuesday by the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball and is free to sign with any team that agrees to pay a release fee based on the percentage of the final dollar amount of his contract.
“Obviously, we are aware,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Our guys do very good work on background. I prefer not to comment on specific level of interest, but we will do our homework.”
Scott Boras is representing Kikuchi, and a source said that Daniels has spoken with the agent about Kikuchi. The 27-year-old went 14-4 with a 3.08 in 2018 and 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA in 2017.
The Rangers need starters. So far, they have lefties Mike Minor and Drew Smyly and right-hander Edinson Volquez. Daniels said earlier in the off-season that he would prefer to have a righty-heavy rotation, as opposed to the lefty-heavy rotation of 2018.
The issue will be money, and Kikuchi could be priced out of the Rangers’ range.
Ohtani was the Rangers’ No. 1 target last off-season, but they lost out to the Los Angeles Angels on the right-handed pitcher and lefty-hitting power hitter. Ohtani was selected as the American League Rookie of the Year even though he was limited on the mound by an elbow injury that needed Tommy John surgery after the season.
Ohtani will not pitch in 2019 but will be able to hit at some point.