With four big-time shortstops available in free agency, and Shohei Ohtani potentially available in trade, our focus for the Cubs this offseason may be pulled in several different directions at once. But at the end of the day, the Cubs need to add AT LEAST one more legitimate, top-half of the rotation starting pitcher — they won’t seriously contend next season without one.
But there’s a problem.
As we’ve discussed with respect to my preferred SP target of the offseason, Carlos Rodón, the Cubs are barreling toward a top pick in the draft, which means signing any free agent attached to draft pick compensation is going to be especially costly — specifically, a second round draft pick, the associated bonus pool space, and IFA bonus pool money. There are still some interesting starters available who won’t receive a qualifying offer, but the pool is limited. And even if the Cubs do go after one of those free agents attached to draft pick compensation, their final bid will take into account the cost of everything they’re giving up (last season, for example, we heard that the Cubs valued their pick+ right around $20M).
But there’s also good news! A new, highly attractive starting pitcher may be arriving on the scene, and he will not be attached to a qualifying offer or the associated compensation.
Meet Kodai Senga of the Fukuoka Softback Hawks, a talented right-handed starting pitcher reportedly considering the jump to MLB this winter.
And here’s the kicker: Senga, 29, is eligible for pure free agency, meaning the Cubs won’t even have to pay a posting fee to sign him, the way they did for Seiya Suzuki ($14.625M) last offseason. The stars do seem to be aligning on that one.
So will he be any good in the states?
Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to determine out how a specific player’s skillset will translate from Japan to MLB. Some players have a great deal of success, of course, but some never quite make the transition. And since I’m not intimately familiar with Senga, I can’t tell you for sure that he’ll be a No. 2 or No. 3 (or whatever) in the States.
But I can tell you that he’s been VERY good in the NPB and has the sort of stuff that certainly could work in MLB. Let’s start with a quick look at the numbers:
This season (2022), Senga has a 2.05 ERA over 16 starts and 105.1 IP. He’s struck out a massive 115 batters during that stretch (28.1 K%) while walking just 33 (8.0%), and batters are having a very hard time finding grass when they do put the ball in play (just 74 hits). But he’s far from a one-hit wonder.
Senga has a career 2.45 ERA in Japan over 268 starts and nearly 1,300 IP.
Setting aside the stats, Senga also hurls a fastball around 95-96 MPH on average, but I’ve read multiple reports of him dialing it up into the upper-90s (even touching 100 mph) in the past. Senga also throws a slider, a cutter, and a two-seamer, as well as the occasional curveball, but it’s his forkball that receives most of the attention.
Here it is striking out Christian Yelich in the World Baseball Classic:
This is just a nasty, nasty pitch:
So another way to think about this guy: He’ll be a 30-year-old right-handed pitcher, who’s basically been among the top-5 pitchers in Japan for almost a decade with at least two *CLEAR* big-league caliber pitches (with plenty of velocity) who should be available for just money this offseason.