Star Japanese hurler Kodai Senga is one of the most intriguing entrants on this offseason’s free agent market. The right-hander is arguably the second-best pitcher remaining behind Carlos Rodón, and he’s already been tied to almost a third of the league in various reports.
Reflecting that wide interest, Senga’s agent Joel Wolfe told reporters at the Winter Meetings this afternoon his client has been offered deals of five and six years (via Kyle Glaser of Baseball America). Predictably, Wolfe didn’t divulge salary figures but suggested Senga’s prioritizing the opportunity to join a win-now club. Earlier in the offseason, Wolfe told Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago the right-hander was hoping to land in a big market.
There’s certainly a risk in committing five or six seasons to a pitcher without any track record against big league hitters. At the same time, it’s not hard to understand how the bidding has apparently worked its way to that level. Senga has a fantastic track record at the highest level in Japan, working to a 2.59 ERA in parts of 11 NPB seasons. He’s coming off 144 frames of 1.94 ERA ball, striking out an above-average 27.5% of opponents. He walked batters at an average 8.6% clip.
According to scouting reports, Senga has a fastball that sits in the mid-upper 90’s and an excellent splitter that serves as his top secondary offering. Evaluators have raised some concerns about his breaking ball and the consistency of his strike-throwing effectiveness, but he bolsters a high-octane top two pitches and has a long track record of success at NPB’s highest level. Headed into his age-30 season, he’ll step right into an MLB rotation, with his signing team surely at least anticipating mid-rotation caliber production.
The starting pitching market has picked up in recent days, with Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Zach Eflin and Andrew Heaney all coming off the board on multi-year deals. Beyond Rodón, Senga leads a group with Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi and Jameson Taillon as the next tier of free agent starters. Senga is the youngest of that group and figures to land the longest deal; it’s quite possible he’ll secure the largest guarantee as a result, even if his annual salaries may check in a bit below those of Bassitt and Eovaldi.
Entering the offseason, MLBTR predicted Senga to land a five-year, $75MM contract. He’s a true international free agent, so a signing team won’t owe any compensation to his former NPB club, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, Padres, Mets, Giants, Yankees and Mariners are among the teams that have been linked to him this offseason. Wolfe told reporters there are currently between a half-dozen and a dozen teams still involved in the market (via Glaser).
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