Kodai Senga has been one of the better pitchers in Japan over the past decade, and the right-hander could make for an intriguing entrant onto next offseason’s MLB free agent market. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported last night (Twitter link) that Senga is likely to consider contract offers from major league teams over the winter. That’s not especially surprising, as he’s reportedly sought to make the jump to MLB in the past but was denied that opportunity by his NPB team, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Senga is a career-long member of the Hawks, with whom he has spent parts of 11 seasons. He’s tallied a bit more than 1000 innings at Japan’s highest level, pitching to a 2.62 ERA with a very strong 28.3% strikeout rate. The right-hander has a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past four seasons, including a sterling 2.05 mark across 105 1/3 innings this year. Senga has fanned 28.1% of opponents in 2022 against a fine 8.1% walk rate. Among qualified NPB hurlers, he ranks third in ERA.
Last offseason, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs wrote that Senga has a quality four-pitch mix headlined by his fastball and split. Longehagen indicated neither of his breaking pitches (cutter or slider) were likely to be impactful offerings, but he suggested his two top pitches combined with solid control could give him a chance to start in the majors. At the time, Longenhagen placed Senga as his #4 international prospect who might be available in 2023 and beyond (and the #3 player in Japan, behind righties Yoshinobu Yamamoto spirit Roki Sasaki).
Unlike Yamamoto and Sasaki, both of whom are in their early 20’s, Senga turns 30 years old in January. The 6’0″ hurler won’t be subject to the MLB – NPB posting system by virtue of his exceeding nine years of NPB service time. That allows him to explore international free agency without requiring any form of compensation on the part of major league teams to his NPB employer.
Senga has a fair bit of financial security to fall back upon. He signed a five-year contract with the Hawks last winter that reportedly guaranteed him a $5.3MM salary this season. That pact afforded Senga an opt-out opportunity after 2022 to allow him to explore MLB free agency, but it also means he can stay in a familiar setting on a multi-year deal if he doesn’t believe there’ll be MLB offers to his liking.