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Yusei Kikuchi chooses free agency after Seattle Mariners decline option

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SEATTLE — Left-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.

Kikuchi could have exercised a one-year player option, but instead is choosing a fresh start elsewhere after struggling over the second half of last season.

Seattle also announced Wednesday that it would not be picking up the option on third baseman Kyle Seager, a move that was long expected.

Kikuchi’s fate was one of the big questions for Seattle entering the offseason. For the first half of 2021, it seemed likely the team would exercise the option on the Japanese lefty after he went 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA and was Seattle’s lone All-Star selection.

But Kikuchi collapsed in the second half of the season and had to be removed from the rotation during Seattle’s push for a postseason spot in the final weeks. Kikuchi was 1-5 with a 5.98 ERA over his final 13 outings. In three of his final four starts, Kikuchi didn’t last beyond three innings.

“Not the way I think anybody envisioned the season ending for him, certainly with the way it started,” manager Scott Servais said after the season. “But you have to make adjustments, you have to do what’s best for the team and at the time I thought that was the best thing for the team.”

If Seattle had exercised its option on Kikuchi, it would have locked him in for $66 million over four years, but the Mariners didn’t seem willing to make that commitment based off his second-half performance.

Had Kikuchi exercised his player option, it would have been for $13 million for one season.

Kikuchi was 15-24 with a 4.97 ERA in 70 starts over three seasons.

The move with Seager was expected since the start of the season. His option would have been for $20 million, but both sides seemed ready for the relationship to come to an end. Seager will receive a $2 million buyout.

The separation seemed apparent on the final day of the regular season when Seager was tearfully removed from the finale as a last send off after 11 seasons with the club.

Seager, who turned 34 on Wednesday, hit a career-high 35 homers and had 101 RBI. The increase in power production caused his batting average to dip to .212, a career-low for a full season.

Seager was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2014. He signed a $100 million, seven-year deal after the 2014 season.

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The Mets spent, the Yankees didn’t and more

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When MLB free agency began, as I was comparing notes with agents and executives, a popular discussion was how many players would sign big deals before the collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1. The common opinion was that only a couple of guys would sign for $75 million or more — and some legitimately thought zero would. They also expected slower-than-usual overall volume.

All of that turned out to be … wildly wrong!

Now we’re in the midst of a lockout that will likely freeze the market for months, but before Dec. 1, we had tons of action to a degree that no one expected. Over the course of about three weeks, teams handed out 51 MLB deals with guaranteed money totaling $1.974 billion. If you include extensions occurring in the 2021 calendar year, another $1.655 billion was spent, and nearly $1.1 billion of that went to five players: Byron Buxton, Wander Franco, Jose Berrios, Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr. Let’s go on a journey of the lessons learned from this incredibly entertaining and active first part of the offseason.

The Mets went hard.
The 2021 season didn’t go that well for the New York Mets, who ended the season in third place in the National League East with 77 wins and watched the Atlanta Braves win the World Series. But since the clock turned to November, things have turned around. Robinson Cano‘s season-long suspension ended, Jacob deGrom should be healthy by the time the season starts, and they added Max Scherzer ($130 million guaranteed), Starling Marte ($78 million), Mark Canha ($26.5 million) and Eduardo Escobar ($20 million) in free agency. With these additions, FanGraphs’ depth charts now have the Mets in a dead heat with the best teams in baseball. The Mets, a team that posted 34.6 WAR in 2021, are projected to post 48.0 in 2022 — behind (and just slightly) only the Dodgers and Yankees.

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Buck O’Neil joins Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, others in being elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame

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Buck O’Neil, a champion of Black ballplayers during a monumental, eight-decade career on and off the field, joined Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and three others in being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Former Minnesota Twins teammates Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, a longtime television analyst after his playing days, also were chosen along with Bud Fowler by a pair of veterans committees.

Oliva and Kaat are the only living new members. Dick Allen, who died last December, fell one vote shy of election.

Kaat pitched 25 seasons with a host of teams, including the Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals, winning 283 games. He served as an analyst for the Yankees before moving on to the MLB Network.

The 16-member Early Days and Golden Days committees met separately in Orlando, Florida. The election announcement was originally scheduled to coincide with the big league winter meetings, which were nixed because of the MLB lockout.

The six newcomers will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24, 2022, along with any new members elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. First-time candidates David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez join Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the ballot, with voting results on Jan. 25.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Daisuke Matsuzaka ends 23-year career, surprised by Ichiro Suzuki in ceremony

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Daisuke Matsuzaka brought his 23-year professional baseball career to a close Saturday in a ceremony that included a surprise appearance by Ichiro Suzuki.

Matsuzaka, who faced only one batter this season for the Saitama Seibu Lions — issuing a walk in an October appearance — told fans at Seibu’s MetLife Dome that he was happy to leave the sport on his terms.

“I’m content that I was able to keep playing baseball until I could no longer throw normally in the end,” Matsuzaka said, according to Kyodo News.

A video from Suzuki was played, ending with the longtime Seattle Mariners outfielder surprising Matsuzaka on the field and giving him a flower bouquet.

“I hadn’t imagined this. It was crazy,” Matsuzaka said, according to Kyodo News. “At first I was able to hold up, and then the tears came and I was done for.

“I was surprised and just overjoyed that, at the end, Ichiro-san came to see me. I’m happy I was able to come so far.”

Suzuki and Matsuzaka faced each other both in Japan and Major League Baseball over their careers. They were also teammates for Japan’s World Baseball Classic titles in 2006 and 2009.

Matsuzaka, 41, was 56-43 with a 4.45 ERA in 132 career MLB starts with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets from 2007 to 2014. He won a World Series title in his rookie season with the Red Sox in 2017.

He started and ended his career with the Lions, pitching for them from 1999 to 2006 and the past two seasons. He also played for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chunichi Dragons after returning to Japan in 2015.

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