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Cubs free agent target: Kodai Senga

Another Japanese pitcher wants to come to MLB. Should the Cubs go after him?

Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

In BCB After Dark Tuesday, Josh asked if you’d rather have Carlos Rodón as a Cub, or NPB star Kodai Senga. The consensus vote appears to be Senga, by about a 60-40 margin.

So let’s talk a bit about the Japanese star. I don’t have a lot of information to give you here other than the facts: 11 years in NPB, a 2.59 ERA and 1.115 WHIP in 1,089 innings with 1,252 strikeouts (10.3 per nine innings). If you look at his baseball-reference page, you’ll see multiple listings each year for his play with Southbank. “JPPL” is the Japan Pacific League, one of their two major leagues. “JPWL” is the Japan Western League, basically an equivalent to Triple-A here. The numbers I cited above are just from his 224 games in the Pacific League. (Incidentally, that page spells his name “Koudai,” and I have seen “Kodai” in most other sources. I suppose we’ll find out for certain which he prefers when he comes to MLB.)

Senga will turn 30 in January, and this note from MLB Trade Rumors tells a bit about the type of pitcher he is:

A year ago, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs wrote that Senga has “exploding” fastball movement as part of a four-pitch mix. The report doesn’t think much of the cutter or slider, with Senga’s splitter being highlighted as his best secondary pitch. Longenhagen notes that Senga has shown the ability to maintain his velocity as a starter and will likely get chances to try that in the majors, though he could also thrive as a two-pitch reliever as a fallback option.

These pitches look pretty devastating:

He throws a pitch called a “ghost fork”:

That’s from the 2021 Olympics — the batter is Todd Frazier.

Senga had an opt-out in his NPB deal so he is a true free agent and will not require a posting fee, as the Cubs had to pay to sign Seiya Suzuki last offseason.

As we all know, NPB performance generally declines a bit when players come to MLB, but is still good enough for it to be worth signing a player or pitcher from Japan’s major leagues.

Who could we compare Senga to?

Here, how about this guy: Seven years in NPB, 167 games (164 starts), 1.99 ERA, 0.985 WHIP, 1,250 strikeouts in 1,268⅓ innings. This pitcher eventually signed to play in MLB and has had some success.

If you haven’t guessed yet, those are Yu Darvish’s numbers in Japan’s major leagues, seven years with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Darvish has a 3.50 ERA and 1.125 WHIP in 242 MLB starts with 1,788 strikeouts in 1,488 innings.

Obviously these are two different pitchers, but I would expect a similar ERA rise for Senga in MLB. Hitters here are simply better than they are in Japan. Senga’s K rate in NBP is better than Darvish’s; whether and how that would translate to MLB, who knows?

The note above from Eric Longenhagen suggests that Senga’s velocity would hold up in MLB, and though that note suggests he could be a successful reliever in MLB, that’s not why he’d come here — he’d come for the big money that would go to a starter.

The Cubs paid Suzuki an AAV of $17 million per year for five years, a total of $85 million, and another $14.625 million posting fee went to Suzuki’s NPB team, the Hiroshima Carp.

I’m just absolutely guessing here, but would five years/$100 million get Senga in a Cubs uniform? That’d put him just a bit below the AAV for the one year plus a player option year remaining for Marcus Stroman, who will get $46 million for 2023 and 2024 if he stays with the Cubs for both seasons.

Would having a Japanese-speaking teammate like Suzuki help entice Senga to come to Chicago?

Have at it.


Kodai Senga...

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one laid out in the article
    (363 votes)
  • 9%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but it will take more money or more years or both
    (49 votes)
  • 20%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (109 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (17 votes)
538 votes total Vote Now