Source: Phillies will pursue Japanese free-agent pitcher Yusei Kikuchi

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Source: Phillies will pursue Japanese free-agent pitcher Yusei Kikuchi

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The Phillies would like to improve their starting pitching this winter. And if they can do that by adding a left-hander, all the better. The Phils have used a lefty starter just three times in the last two seasons and that’s not ideal when you face Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves 19 times in the NL East.

Arizona’s Robbie Ray and Seattle’s James Paxton are two lefties that the Phillies have interest in trading for (see story). The Phils also have interest in free agents J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin, all lefties.

Another lefty is expected to hit the free-agent market very soon. His name is Yusei Kikuchi. He is 27 years old. He pitches for the Seibu Lions of the Japanese League and that club is expected to go through the posting process and make him available to major-league clubs this month.

The Phillies have seen Kikuchi and will pursue him once he becomes available, according to a baseball source. Kikuchi is represented by Scott Boras and the Phillies will be spending plenty of time communicating with him this offseason as they pursue his star client, free agent Bryce Harper. Boras also represents Phillies players Nick Williams, Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez and Rhys Hoskins.

General manager Matt Klentak would not speak about specific offseason targets at the GM meetings on Tuesday. But he did confirm that he’d like to add a lefty starter this offseason.

“In a perfect world, we would like to have a more balanced rotation,” Klentak said.  “We’re not going to swap out a good righty for a less-good lefty. We’re not going to do that to have a lefty. But if we can make the rotation better and also add balance to our pitching staff, I think that’s something worth exploring.”

Scouts who have seen Kikuchi rate him as a No. 3 or 4 starter on a major league staff.

Kikuchi went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 23 starts for Seibu in 2018. He struck out 153 batters in 163 2/3 inings. He went 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA in 26 starts in 2017.

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More on the Phillies

The Joe Girardi-to-Phillies connections keep getting louder

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The Joe Girardi-to-Phillies connections keep getting louder

Joe Girardi was in Philadelphia Monday for his second interview with the Phillies. Will he be the next manager? As this process has played out, it's looked more and more likely.

Beyond our own reporting of how the week is shaping up for the Phillies and that Girardi may very well be the preferred candidate, there were these two items:

If true, it would make sense that of the Phillies' three top decision-makers, John Middleton is the most pro-Girardi. He has to recognize that Girardi has an extremely high approval rating in this city already. Girardi is the overwhelming fan preference. An organization should not base a decision around fan preference, but the Phillies have shown that they do consider it a piece to the puzzle.

A few weeks back, we ranked the eight managerial openings in attractiveness now and over the next three years. The Mets were first but not by a significant margin over the Phillies. They're in slightly better shape with Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso and Noah Syndergaard, but how many more years will anyone other than deGrom be in that rotation? Syndergaard trade rumors have persisted, Zack Wheeler is a free agent after the World Series and Marcus Stroman is a free agent after 2020.

The Phillies have also been more willing to spend over the last decade than the Mets. Their average end-of-season payroll from 2011-14 was more than $171 million. Last year, their opening day payroll was $140 million and all signs point to more spending this winter.

In all four of those years earlier in the decade (2011-14), the Phillies ended the season with a payroll higher than the Mets have ever carried. If you're Girardi and your two best offers are jobs in major markets that involve immense pressure, wouldn't you rather be with the ownership group you trust more to spend?

The Phillies also have the money to pay Girardi himself — another obviously important factor. Manager salaries don't count against the luxury tax. As Jim Salisbury pointed out on our At the Yard podcast Monday, the next manager's salary might cost the same as a middle reliever. At that point, what is an extra couple million if it means firmly landing the most appealing veteran manager on the market who has the qualities the top of the organization and vast majority of the fan base want?

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At the Yard podcast: Zeroing in on Joe Girardi, free agency, 2020 outfield


At the Yard podcast: Zeroing in on Joe Girardi, free agency, 2020 outfield

The Phillies shouldn't let Joe Girardi leave town early this week. Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discuss the Phillies' second round of interviews and more on the latest At the Yard podcast.

• Joe Girard back in Philly Monday and Phillies shouldn't let him leave.

• How much competition do the Mets present for Girardi? Are they prioritizing someone else?/

• Ways Girardi could make his imprint on the 2020 Phillies.

• Do Phillies have an identity crisis?

• Will draft pick compensation affect Phillies' free-agent plans?

• Outfield plans for 2020.

• Corey Dickerson's future.

• Where Jim thinks Gerrit Cole will land. 

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