Right-hander Kodai Senga signed a new five-year contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, according to The Kyodo News and other outlets. Full salary details aren’t known, though Senga will receive $5.3MM in 2022.
More pertinently for North American fans, the contract also contains an opt-out clause following the 2022 NPB season that would allow Senga to leave the Hawks for a potential deal with a Major League team. The opt-out clause is contingent on Senga banking enough service time in 2022 to officially qualify as a full free agent outside of the NPB/MLB posting system, which probably shouldn’t be considered a lock given that Senga missed quite a bit of the 2021 season recovering from an ankle injury.
However, Senga’s strong finish to the year should help answer any doubts about his health. The righty posted a 2.66 ERA over 84 2/3 innings for the Hawks, along with a 26.47% strikeout rate and 7.94% walk rate. If that wasn’t enough, Senga also helped Japan’s Olympic baseball team capture the gold medal at this past summer’s Tokyo Games.
Senga has made no secret of his desire to eventually test himself in MLB, and as he told reporters, “my thinking on that has not wavered” even after signing this multi-year pact with the Fukuoka team. “As a ballplayer, it’s essential to live my life always aiming higher….(Next year) I want to blow past all the numbers I’ve managed up to this point,” Senga said.
His biggest obstacle to a jump to North America has been, simply, the Hawks’ refusal to let him test the market. The Hawks have a team policy against posting any of their players to North American teams, and thus Senga has had to simply wait until he has been eligible. While it seems quite likely that he will indeed become a free agent next winter, the five-year contract does allow Senga some flexibility, as a number of factors could end up changing his mind. Injuries or a dip in form might convince him to stay with Fukuoka, or in terms of bigger-picture issues, the state of the pandemic or what the next MLB collective bargaining agreement may look like will certainly play into Senga’s eventual decision.
Senga has been one of Japan’s better pitchers for the better part of a decade, first working as a star reliever out of the Hawks’ bullpen and then becoming a regular starter in 2016. Senga has a 2.69 ERA and 28.33% strikeout rate over 945 career NPB innings, making three All-Star teams and twice leading the Pacific League in strikeouts. If he stays healthy and keeps pitching this well in 2022, Senga (who turns 30 in January 2023) should have no trouble attracting a noteworthy multi-year contract from Major League teams next offseason.