Right-hander Kodai Senga is planning to trigger the opt-out in his contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and become a free agent, according to a report from Sankei Sports (Japanese language link). Senga and the club agreed to a five-year extension back in December, though that contract contained an opt-out clause after the first season. Senga will be a free agent and won’t be subject to the MLB-NPB posting system. It was reported in August that Senga planned to pursue MLB opportunities this winter and it now seems he will follow through on those plans.
Senga has been with the Hawks for his entire career thus far, making his first appearance back in 2012. It has been reported for many years that he has desired to make the leap across the Pacific to join MLB, though the Hawks are known for never posting their players. Instead, Senga has had to wait until he accrued nine years of NPB service time, at which point players are allowed to become free agents. While he was one year away from the open market, he agreed to the aforementioned extension, but only with the opt-out provision in place. He earned $5.3MM in 2022 and now has a chance to substantially add to that.
Senga, who will turn 30 in January, already has a track record as one of the best pitchers in Japan in recent years. Over his 11 seasons, he’s thrown 1,089 innings with a 2.59 ERA, 1,252 strikeouts and 414 walks. In 2022, he threw 144 innings with a 1.94 ERA, striking out 156 batters against 49 walks.
A year ago, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs wrote that Senga has “exploding” fastball movement as part of a four-pitch mix. The report doesn’t think much of the cutter or slider, with Senga’s splitter being highlighted as his best secondary pitch. Longenhagen notes that Senga has shown the ability to maintain his velocity as a starter and will likely get chances to try that in the majors, though he could also thrive as a two-pitch reliever as a fallback option.
Senga figures to be a popular target for MLB teams and not just for his talents. Players coming from overseas generally have their markets tempered slightly by the fact that they are not proven at the major league level. This year’s crop of free agents will include some elite arms like Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon, with all of them sure to secure massive paydays. For teams unwilling to shop at the very top of the market, Senga will figure to be an attractive option.
Also, since the Hawks refused to post Senga and held onto him until their club control was completely exhausted, there will be no posting fee to consider. Under the posting system, the signing team has to pay the Japanese club a fee, the value of which is dependent on the size of the contract: 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. However, that won’t be an issue at all in the case of Senga, meaning any MLB team that signs him will only have to pay the strict value of the agreed-upon contract.