Kodai Senga is Officially a Free Agent - New Scouting Report on the Japanese Righty

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Kodai Senga is Officially a Free Agent – New Scouting Report on the Japanese Righty

Chicago Cubs

No more waiting on Japanese ace Kodai Senga: he’s officially a free agent. Here’s hoping the Chicago Cubs were on the phone with him immediately. Heck, I hope someone was on a plane to Japan to start the courting process.

I feel like I always have to hedge discussions about Senga with a note that many of you probably perceive an imbalance between my level of excitement about the Cubs pursuing Senga (high) and the projected/expected level of impact (mid-rotation, with some upside). I think there’s a chance that Senga’s stuff translates to a front-of-the-rotation type in MLB, but it’s far more likely that he settles in as a mid-rotation guy. So why am I so excited about the Cubs going after him? Because he’s 30-year-old who has been dominant in Japan at times, who isn’t going to cost front-of-the-rotation money, and whose addition would open the door for the Cubs to SUBSTANTIALLY impact the rotation with another addition.

In other words, I really want the Cubs to add two high-quality starters this offseason. If they start with Senga, I think it remains highly plausible that they could also add one of the top free agent starters, or trade for an impact arm. That’d be two guys who would be in that Marcus-Stroman-or-better tier. That’s a helluva good rotation when you start talking about Justin Steele as your number four. I just think Senga is a guy the Cubs can get who would not close the door on any other impact starting pitcher addition. So I want them to get him.

And, again, it’s not like Senga doesn’t come with upside. It’s just harder to project the transition to MLB, obviously.

Jim Allen covers baseball in Japan as well as anyone, so when he offers up a scouting report on a player, I listen. The first thing you’ll notice is the array of injury issues Senga has dealt with the last two years – elbow tightness, calf issues, an ankle injury – and that’s going to give you pause. As it should. Probably impacts the price tag, though, so it cuts both ways.

The second thing you’ll notice is the discussion of the pitch arsenal, which is tantalizing. Senga has a fastball that averages nearly 96 mph, but he doesn’t command it particularly well. He has a forkball (splitter) that was the most-whiffed splitter in the league, and one of the most valuable pitches overall. He also throws a cutter and a slider quite a bit, each of which rank solidly, too. So clearly, those pitches play off the fastball really well.

Allen grades the four pitches thusly:

Fastball: 50
Split: 70
Cutter: 60
Slider: 60

So you’re talking about a four-pitch mix, where every pitch is at least average, and three of which are plus. And the one that isn’t plus is a 96 mph fastball. I would think the Cubs could have some fun with all that.

I would also think, even though you absolutely would not be signing Kodai Senga to be a reliever, that pitch mix could create a nice floor in relief if things go really sideways as a starter. It depends on the price tag, obviously, but even if you’re signing him to a four-year, $60 million deal (or whatever), that doesn’t immediately become a DISASTER of a signing if he winds up an impact reliever in MLB instead of a mid-rotation starter. Not ideal. Not the goal. Just maybe a decent floor.

As for the ceiling, that might depend on health and whether an MLB team can optimize the pitch mix, sequencing, and command. Oh, and, you know, the always-uncertain transition to facing MLB hitters instead of NPB hitters. But the bones are there to be a guy who is as successful as Stroman, even if the style is somewhat different.

I don’t expect that we’ll see Senga signing ASAP, in large part because this kind of life transition will require a whole lot of exploration and discussion and tours and all that good stuff. Here’s hoping the Cubs can wine-and-dine Senga on that front, and hopefully Seiya Suzuki has good things to say about his transition to the States with the Cubs, specifically.


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.