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Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi declines player option, elects free agency

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 3, 2021

Seattle Mariners' Yusei Kikuchi pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the second inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. eft-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is leaving the Seattle Mariners after the team declined a club option on the All-Star and Kikuchi opted for free agency. The Mariners announced the decision with Kikuchi on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners' Yusei Kikuchi pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the second inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. eft-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is leaving the Seattle Mariners after the team declined a club option on the All-Star and Kikuchi opted for free agency. The Mariners announced the decision with Kikuchi on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

Seattle Times

SEATTLE – While the visitor’s clubhouse of Minute Maid Park in Houston probably still hasn’t dried and reeks of champagne and beer from a celebration into the early hours of Wednesday morning, the process of preparing for the 2022 season started less than 24 hours later with teams adjusting their 40-man roster and eligible players becoming free agents.

The Mariners announced their five players with expiring major-league contracts – James Paxton, Tyler Anderson, Sean Doolittle, Joe Smith and Hector Santiago – are all free agents.

The team also announced it declined the club options on third baseman Kyle Seager ($20 million) and left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (four years, $66 million).

But in a bit of a stunner, Kikuchi decided to decline a $13 million player option for 2022, which went into effect when the team declined the club option.

It’s a gift for a Mariners front office that’s expected to want to spend in free agency. Kikuchi’s decision gives them an unexpected $13 million to add to the payroll budget.

Besides walking away from a guaranteed $13 million, Kikuchi probably won’t find that sort of a salary for the 2022 season on the free-agent market.

As he struggled in the second half of 2021, MLB sources indicated Kikuchi knew the Mariners would not exercise the club option. There was some outside speculation he might return to Japan. But sources said he was adamant on proving he could be a viable MLB starting pitcher after three seasons of inconsistency. The security of the guaranteed salary and season with the Mariners seemed like the best way to do it.

As he continued to produce subpar outings and eventually was removed from the starting rotation in the final week of the season, declining the club option became more of a possibility and a change of scenery might be beneficial.

Kikuchi’s agent, Scott Boras, will certainly sell teams on his All-Star first half and his plus velocity and stuff that still plays, particularly for a left-handed starter.

The Mariners’ decision to decline the respective club options was anticipated given Seager’s farewell send-off in the season finale at T-Mobile Park, the team’s “step-back” plan to continue a younger core of talent for sustainable success and the deteriorated relationship between the front office and the veteran third baseman, a change seemed likely and necessary since spring training. News that the Mariners had informed Seager of their decision last week emerged on Sunday.

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