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Mariners sign Japanese left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi

SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners have signed Japanese left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi to a four-year deal just ahead of the deadline for him to sign with a major league club or be forced to return to Japan for another season.

Seattle made the signing official Wednesday after word first surfaced of an agreement late on New Year’s Eve. Kikuchi was one of the few starter options remaining on the market and he will be joining a team with a long history of success with Japanese players.

“Yusei’s combination of character, talent, experience and relative age made him a primary target in our roster building plans,” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He is an exciting young pitcher with the ability to impact the Mariners, both in the present and future.”

Kikuchi was posted by the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan in early December. Under new posting rules, he had until Wednesday afternoon Seattle time to sign with a major league team or be forced to return to Japan for the 2019 season.

Kikuchi was 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA for Seibu last season. He was 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA a year earlier. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and he has an array of off-speed pitches.

Dipoto was open at the winter meetings in Las Vegas about his interest in Kikuchi and about how a deal structured in the right way could still fit in the Mariners’ rebuilding plans. Seattle is undergoing an extensive makeover this offseason in the hopes of acquiring prospects now with an ultimate goal of being able to contend in a couple of years.

Kikuchi will turn 28 during the 2019 season. With the trade of James Paxton this offseason, Kikuchi will slot high in Seattle’s rotation alongside Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, Felix Hernandez and likely a couple of young prospects.

Kikuchi is the latest in a line of Japanese players to call Seattle home, a list that started with Ichiro Suzuki and also includes Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kenji Johjima, Nori Aoki and Hisashi Iwakuma.

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