Keep or Trade? Yusei Kikuchi could be one of the best rental pitchers available this summer

Photo credit:Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Georges
18 days ago
After dropping three of four to the Detroit Tigers last weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays now sit 12.0 games back in the AL East with a 24-29 record. With the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles continuing to rattle off wins, optimism may be at the lowest point in several seasons for the Blue Jays fanbase. Barring a turnaround over the next couple of months, the team appears destined to trade off some of their pending free agents and players entering arbitration years. We already looked at what the club should do about Vladimir Guerrero Jr,, so now let’s turn our attention to pending free-agent pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.
Kikuchi is in the midst of his second straight solid season, managing a 2.83 FIP in 11 starts. Kikuchi has averaged exactly one strikeout per inning (61 in 61.0), but limited run support has his record at 2-4 to start the year. The 32-year old battled some control issues in his first four Major League seasons, but has managed to limit walks over the past two seasons.
The Morioka, Japan native is playing out the third and final year of his three-year, $36 million contract he signed with Toronto ahead of the 2022 season. Every team is always in need of starting pitching, so it certainly seems like Kikuchi will be coveted come July if he continues to pitch how he has been. Should the Blue Jays listen to those trade offers? Most definitely.
As nice of a story as it has been for Kikuchi to blossom into a solid Major Leaguer, he appears to be the most likely member of the 2024 Blue Jays to be traded. As mentioned earlier, the team would have to all of a sudden find themselves back in the playoff race in order for them to justify keeping him. Assuming they aren’t able to do that, Kikuchi has a chance to be one of the more sought-after trade acquisitions at the deadline. The lefthander would likely fetch the Blue Jays a couple of prospects in return that could help with a rebuild. To get an idea as to what kind of return may be a possibility, let’s take a look at a couple of moves from previous trade deadlines:
Dodgers trade for Rangers’ Yu Darvish (2017)
One trade worth looking at involved Kikuchi’s countryman Yu Darvish back in 2017. Pitching for the Rangers, the righthander had a 4.01 ERA and 1.17 WHIP when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline. Compare this to Kikuchi’s 3.25 ERA and 1.20 WHIP so far this season, and he might represent a similar case study. Like Kikuchi, Darvish was also a pending free agent, albeit two years younger. The Rangers acquired three players in return, most notably MLB.com’s #82 ranked prospect Willie Calhoun. Although Calhoun never established himself as an impact player, there was at least hype at the time that he could become something special.
Angels acquire Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from White Sox (2023)
In one of the more perplexing moves in recent memory, the Angels decided to buy at last year’s trade deadline, acquiring two pending free agents in exchange for their 2nd and 3rd ranked prospects. Giolito had a 3.79 ERA and 1.22 WHIP at the time of the trade, while Lopez was having a solid season out of the bullpen. Of course, the deal did not work out for the Angels, and the White Sox were able to acquire a couple of promising prospects in return in catcher Edgar Quero and pitcher Ky Bush. Quero was tabbed as the 95th-ranked prospect coming into 2024, per MLB.com. Although Bush was not ranked, he has managed a sub-2.00 ERA in eight Double-A starts this season. If the Blue Jays can throw in another pending free agent along with Kikuchi (Yimi Garcia perhaps?), they may be able to make a deal like this happen.
The precedent has been set for a nice return if and when the Blue Jays decide to trade Kikuchi this summer. In a perfect world, the lefthander continues to pitch well and generates interest from several contending teams as the deadline approaches.

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