At this point in the offseason, you’ve probably heard about Kodai Senga, the Nippon Professional Baseball star who has been meeting with MLB teams. The right-handed fireballer has met with the Mets, which makes sense considering his reported interest in exploring a role with a big market team, the team’s need for starting pitching and Billy Eppler’s experience in scouting in Japan.
As an assistant general manager with the Yankees, Eppler was influential in bringing Masahiro Tanaka to New York. He had scouted Tanaka extensively and developed a strong relationship with him. As the GM of the Los Angeles Angels, he signed Shohei Ohtani.
Senga’s situation is interesting. He’ll be 30 in January and has accrued enough service time to be considered a free agent, he has no posting date. The numbers jump off the page: In 11 seasons with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks he posted a 2.59 ERA and last season went 11-6 with a 1.94 ERA. He throws in the high 90s and some reports say he’s even hit triple-digits. He threw 144 innings, his largest workload since 2019.
His forkball, which is his version of a splitter, gets the bats swinging. This breakdown from Pitching Ninja goes into more detail and shows the grip he uses to throw this devastating breaking pitch.
But he doesn’t seem to have an extensive repertoire. He’s mostly working with a fastball and the forkball. Frontline starters in North America need a three or four-pitch mix.
Some talent evaluators have questioned his fastball command as well. The NPB strike zone is significantly smaller than the Major League zone and the hitters are not as elite in Japan. At 6-0 with a 3/4 delivery, the plane is lowered to about 5-9. Senga will have to learn to elevate his fastball.
There are also some mechanical concerns when it comes to pitchers in Japan and Senga has not been immune to injuries. His status heading into the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games was questionable because of an ankle injury, and he’s dealt with shoulder and elbow issues as well.
However, these are typical concerns for pitchers coming from overseas. The bigger question is whether or not he makes sense for the Mets, or more sense than someone like Carlos Rodon, who would require sacrificing two draft picks and international bonus pool money. The projections for Senga’s contract are somewhere in the four-year, $60-75 million range. Much of this is going to be dependent on Jacob deGrom, but let’s say, hypothetically, deGrom chooses to sign elsewhere. If the Mets could get Senga on the lower end of that salary range and get someone like Rodon or Verlander, the rotation would look like this:
- Max Scherzer
- Justin Verlander
- Carlos Carrasco
- Kodai Senga
- Joey Lucchesi (L) or David Peterson (L)
That’s not bad. That’s a pretty strong rotation, but there are a lot of questions in that lineup. But then again, there are just as many questions about deGrom these days too. It’s always a gamble.
Eppler’s scouting experience and his understanding of Japanese pitchers are beneficial in this situation whether or not the Mets sign him. Maybe he sees something others don’t that convinces him the club needs to look elsewhere to fill the holes in the rotation, or maybe he sees him as the next Yu Darvish.
For now, the Mets are doing their due diligence by meeting with one of the most intriguing players available this offseason.