Texas Rangers

A case for Rangers to sign Kikuchi, and a case for them to pass on the Japanese pitcher

Jon Daniels (Rangers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager) taking a call on the practice fields as the Texas Rangers start their 2018 season on their first day of spring training (for pitchers and catchers), Thursday, February 15, in Surprise, Arizona.
Jon Daniels (Rangers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager) taking a call on the practice fields as the Texas Rangers start their 2018 season on their first day of spring training (for pitchers and catchers), Thursday, February 15, in Surprise, Arizona. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Not all the big-name free agents are off the board. In fact, most of them remain after Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi were plucked off the market.

The Texas Rangers even have interest in some of them, namely Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn and Yusei Kikuchi. As is always the case when a pitcher from Japan hits the market, the Rangers are considered among the front-runners to land him.

They’ve known Kikuchi for years and saw more of his starts in Japan than they did Shohei Ohtani, for whom some club officials considered surrendering their first born last year.

They won’t do that for Kikuchi, who isn’t as good as Ohtani, Masahiro Tanaka or the biggest Japan star the Rangers have landed, Yu Darvish. But a team that needs starting pitchers can’t be choosy, and the Rangers need starting pitchers.

But is the left-hander worth the investment, which will include a fee paid to the club that posted him, the Seibu Lions?

A case for and against the move:

Sign him

As has been mentioned no shortage of times, the Rangers need starting pitching. If something ridiculous happened and the season were to start tomorrow, the Rangers would have a rotation of Mike Minor, Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly, Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez.

Gulp.

Kikuchi is better than the last two and might be better initially than Volquez and Smyly as they reacquaint themselves to competition after missing last season because of Tommy John surgery.

The Rangers are also going to need starters in 2020 and 2021 as they wait for their best prospects to develop and risk losing Smyly and Volquez after this season. Kikuchi wouldn’t just be a one-year fix.

Members of the Japanese media say that Kikuchi has no preference where he plays, even though the conventional wisdom is that he would prefer to be on the West Coast. He knows the Rangers well from their dalliance in 2009.

Because he isn’t as good as others from Japan, he might not break the Rangers’ bank, which some believe is already broken. If he avoids the pitfalls that can grab pitchers from Japan, perhaps signing him now could turn into a bargain in coming seasons.

General manager Jon Daniels sure likes a bargain.

And the owners like money, and Kikuchi, as one Japanese writer theorized, could help with that. Toyota’s North American headquarters are in Plano, and already the Japanese car manufacturer has partnered with the Rangers in some areas.

With the new headquarters came many transplanted workers from California, and the writer said many of them are Japanese. He believes they would pay to come to Globe Life Park and Globe Life Field to see Kikuchi.

Take that for what it’s worth.

Don’t sign him

Scouts have said that Kikuchi is a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, and the Rangers could pluck a couple of those via free agency probably for less than they could get Kikuchi and for fewer years.

The Rangers could be better served using the money it would take to sign Kikuchi elsewhere, like marble flooring and brass fixtures in the bathroom of the owners’ suite at Globe Life Field.

When Kikuchi is on, he’s really good. When he’s not, which happens more often than it should, he’s really not good. In a division filled with quality right-handed hitters, a third lefty in the rotation might not be the best fit.

In addition, there is always a concern that pitchers from Japan will struggle adjusting to the major leagues. The ball used in Japan is different than in MLB, and the schedule and travel are much more demanding.

Then, there’s this: Darvish, Ohtani and Tanaka have all endured elbow injuries, and Darvish and Ohtani have undergone Tommy John surgery. Kikuchi also has had some shoulder issues in the past, and those always make the Rangers squirm a little.

But some team is going to sign him before the 30-day window after his posting closes Jan. 2, and agent Scott Boras probably will get his client a little extra. The Rangers are concerned about that possibility.

Final verdict

That’s up to Daniels and ownership. There are likely pluses and pitfalls they are aware of that the media isn’t, but the fact still remains that the Rangers are short on starting pitching for 2019 and into the foreseeable future.

They could do a lot worse than Kikuchi, for next season and beyond. There are no guarantees that top prospects will become quality big-league pitchers.

The Rangers should take a their best shot at signing him.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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