The St. Louis Cardinals should pursue Yusei Kikuchi in free agency, but at a cost.
Yusei Kikuchi’s decision to opt out of his $14 million contract with the Seattle Mariners came as a surprise to many, but it was a long time coming. He was not guaranteed a starting role next year and will have a long list of suitors willing to offer him such a role.
The Cardinals should be one of them.
With Jon Lester and J.A. Happ as free agents, and Kwang Hyun Kim unlikely to return, the Cardinals have holes to fill in the rotation. Of course, Miles Mikolas will return alongside Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty, and the team expects Dakota Hudson to return and top prospect Matthew Liberatore to debut at some point next season.
But if the Cardinals’ 2021 season taught us anything, you can never have enough depth. Kikuchi, 34, would provide insurance and a decent option for the team’s No. 3 or 4 rotation spot. He started the season with a 3.48 ERA, emerging as Seattle’s lone All-Star selection, but finished the season with a 5.98 ERA in his last 13 starts.
Kikuchi was bad enough that he was removed from the Mariners’ rotation during their epic playoff push in the final weeks of the season. Perhaps a change of scenery would benefit him, with going to an annual playoff contender helping him sustain that level of success.
But if the Cardinals pursue Kikuchi, they should not give him a contract similar to the $13 million option he declined for 2022. In three career seasons, he has a 4.97 ERA in 70 starts, and has not been the high-end rotation piece the Mariners thought when they signed him.
Has he been good? Of course. He would help any team’s rotation, including the Cardinals. But they should not break the bank – or prioritize signing him – when there will be other options in free agency that can help just as much, if not more.