The Rangers are expected to visit with 18-year-old Japanese lefthander Yusei Kikuchi and his adviser in Japan today, joining the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Giants as teams with Monday meetings scheduled. The Yankees, Mariners, Mets, and Indians will reportedly meet with Kikuchi tomorrow.
Kikuchi, who boasts a fastball that touches 96 miles per hour, faces a Wednesday deadline to declare for Japan's October 29 amateur draft, in which he's certain to be the top selection.
If drafted by a Japanese club, he can still sign with a major league franchise but, if he does so, he'd be banned from pitching in Japan for three years if he were ever to seek re-eligibility. (Non-issue.)
But if he signs to pitch in Japan, the only way he can pitch in the United States is to wait nine years for free agency or have his club choose to post him for MLB negotiating rights.
Kikuchi conducted meetings with each of the 12 Japanese clubs on Friday and Saturday, which might seem unusual for a consensus number one overall pick if not for the crazy Nippon Professional Baseball rule that a player may be drafted by more than one team. In the event that Kikuchi submits to the NPB draft and multiple clubs select him - Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker speculates that as many as 10 clubs could use their first-round pick on the lefthander - there will be a drawing to determine which of those clubs has the right to negotiate with him.
It's worth noting that Japanese clubs are restricted to a maximum signing bonus of $1 million, plus salary and incentives that could bring a total package to about $1.65 million, an amount that is expected to be dwarfed by the offers coming from the interested major league clubs. The noted former big league scout Ray Poitevint compares Kikuchi's stuff to Clayton Kershaw's and suggested he'd be a top-five pick if eligible for the MLB draft.
The $5.1 deal (including a $1.3 million bonus) that Boston gave 22-year-old righthander Junichi Tazawa in November - which was short of the $7 million offer the Rangers reportedly made - could be a baseline for what Kikuchi seeks.
Texas has been in on Kikuchi for many months and, for what it's worth, was characterized earlier this season as the possible frontrunner to sign him.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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