Lions’ Akiyama set up for 2019 free agency

Shogo Akiyama
Shogo Akiyama, center, appears set to follow teammate Kazuo Matsui (left) to the majors.

Seibu Lions center fielder Shogo Akiyama turned down a multiyear contract extension on Monday, a move that will make the 30-year-old eligible for international free agency a year from now. Last month, Akiyama won his fifth Golden Glove and his third Pacific League Best Nine Award. He finished in the voting for PL MVP. The left-handed hitter became eligible for domestic free agency after the 2017 season, but signed a two-year contract to remain with the Lions. “He didn’t say he had any particular plans right now (for next year),” Seibu Senior Director Hisanobu Watanabe said. The Lions have lost three key players from 2018, when they won the PL for the first time in 10 years. Second baseman Hideto Asamura, the runner-up in the MVP voting left as a free agent for the PL’s Rakuten Eagles, while Ginjiro Sumitani, the former No. 1 catcher, filed for free agency and joined the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants. On Monday, the Lions filed the paperwork needed to post lefty Yusei Kikuchi. “Losing that many key players means that everyone’s going to have more opportunities,” Akiyama said after meeting with team officials. “For me, next season is going to be one of challenges.”

Kikuchi to keep it simple this time

Nine years after a tearful press conference where he put his major league ambitions on hold, Yusei Kikuchi said Sunday he is not going to be distracted by the highs and lows surrounding his upcoming negotiations with big league clubs.

The day before his posting, he appeared back in the city of Hanamaki, in northeastern Japan’s Iwate Prefecture, with two of his Seibu Lions teammates to participate in an event.

“I’m not going to be on an emotional roller coaster,” Kikuchi said about the posting according to Nikkan Sports. “The negotiating period is 30 days and a lot of unexpected things are likely to happen I suppose, so I’m going to train and prepare so that I can produce next season.”

What MLB scouts think of Yusei Kikuchi
Yusei Kikuchi video

Kikuchi, who graduated from Hanamaki Higashi High School just before Shohei Ohtani entered as a freshman, joined the Lions of NPB’S Pacific League despite announcing that his goal had been to play in the major leagues and not turn pro in Japan.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to hit major league pitchers just like that,” the lefty said. “I thought they would be able to shut him down.”

Yet like Ohtani after him, Kikuchi stayed, and his move to the majors is once more on the front burner.

“I’ve had this target in mind ever since the first winter after I entered high school,” Kikuchi said according to Sports Nippon referring to the idea sown by his high school manager. “Mr. (Hiroshi) Sasaki set that target before me, ‘High School and then the majors.’ It’s been 12 years since then and I’m pretty happy that this opportunity is finally here.”

With about 3,000 people in attendance to hear him and teammates Shuta Tonosaki and Pacific League MVP Hotaka Yamakawa speak, Kikuchi was asked about Ohtani’s success.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to hit major league pitchers just like that,” the lefty said. “I thought they would be able to shut him down.”

writing & research on Japanese baseball