NPB pitcher Kodai Senga expected to explore MLB opportunities this offseason

Kodai Senga has been one of the best pitchers in Japan over the past decade, and the right-hander could be an intriguing entrant into the next offseason’s MLB free agent market. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported last night (Twitter link) that Senga is likely to consider contract offers from major league teams over the winter. That’s not particularly surprising, as he would have looked 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 longtime member of the Hawks, with whom he spent 11 seasons. He tallied just over 1,000 innings at Japan’s top level, hitting a 2.62 ERA with a very strong strikeout rate of 28.3%. The right-hander has a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last four seasons, including a £2.05 mark on 105 1/3 innings this year. Senga has stoked 28.1% of opponents in 2022 against a handsome walk rate of 8.1%. Among qualified NPB pitchers, he ranks third in the ERA.

Last offseason, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote that Senga had a quality four-pitch mix with his fastball and split. Longehagen indicated that none of his breaking throws (cutter or slider) were likely to have an impact, but he suggested that his best two throws combined with solid control could give him a chance to start in the majors . At the time, Longenhagen listed Senga as his No. 4 international prospect who could be available in 2023 and beyond (and the No. 3 player in Japan, behind the right-handers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Roki Sasaki).

Unlike Yamamoto and Sasaki, who are both in their early twenties, Senga turns 30 in January. The 6’0″ pitcher will not be subject to the MLB – NPB posting system due to his nine years of NPB service. This allows him to explore international free will without demanding any form of compensation from major league teams to his employer NPB.

Senga has good financial security to rely on. He signed a five-year contract with the Hawks last winter that would have guaranteed him a salary of $5.3 million this season. That pact gave Senga an opt-out opportunity after 2022 to allow him to explore MLB free agency, but it also means he can stay in familiar surroundings on a multi-year contract if he doesn’t believe there will be offers from MLB to his liking.

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