Yankees could land the next great Japanese pitcher to fill rotation spot

kodai senga, mets, yankees
March 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Japan pitcher Kodai Senga (41) throws in the eighth inning against USA during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There have been rumors swirling about surrounding the Yankees‘ offseason pitching targets, with various analysts saying the team is targeting a big fish this winter. The likes of Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and Carlos Rodón have come up in the past few weeks as potential fits. One guy who deserves more attention than he’s gotten is Japanese phenom, Kodai Senga.

Now, I don’t personally believe his ceiling and floor are as high as the future GOAT out of Japan, Roki Sasaki’s will be when he’s allowed to come to the states. However, he has still been nothing shy of dominant in his time in the NPB.

MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi stated both that the Red Sox and Yankees have been in contact with Senga’s representatives as of last week. Though the Yanks aren’t the most likely suitor, the organization should absolutely look into bringing him on. Last season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, he was electric, and with a fastball that has topped out at 102 MPH, it’s hard not to be enamored with his stuff.

Senga was the definition of dominance in his time with the Hawks:

In 2022, Senga tossed 144.0 innings, which was the most for him since 2019. In those 144.0 innings, he only ceded 31 earned runs, good for a 1.96 ERA. In 11 seasons in NPB, he has a 2.42 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Every year was the definition of elite baseball, and the fact he was able to put together consistently dominant years is a great sign. Though the NPB is about the same skill level as AAA to many, to be as good as Senga was deserves some flowers. He only gave up a 0.4 HR/9 which bodes well for playing at Yankee Stadium, as that pesky short porch is like a double-edged sword sometimes. Everything he does, he does well, and his repertoire of pitches plays into his style perfectly.

Senga’s fastball is all the rage amongst those who have scouted. He has a fastball that can hit triple digits coupled with an elite splitter. The one mark against him is that he still needs to develop a third pitch or breaking ball that he can mix in with his other two pitches.

Still, Senga could see improvements in his time in the majors, and developing a slider could be just the pitch that puts him over the top. Fangraphs has listed their projected salary for Senga as around four years and $60 million. From an AAV standpoint, that’s roughly around what I see Jameson Taillon getting this off-season. Last year, Chris Bassitt signed a deal that was 3/51M, and if that’s the benchmark, sign me up.

Yankees’ success with Japanese pitchers should be an encouraging reminder:

The Yankees have had some success with Japanese pitchers in the past, with the likes of both Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka putting together quality seasons in Pinstripes. Though Kuroda only played three years in New York, he posted a 3.62 ERA and tossed 620.0 innings (219.2 in ’12, 201.1 in ’13, and rounded it off with 199.0 in ’14).

As for Masa, he quickly became a fan favorite, and the time he spent in NY was almost always pleasant for us fans. Sadly, for Tanaka, some rotten Yankees fans were rude and brash to him, and he talked about how it was difficult for him at times to live in New York. Nonetheless, Tanaka was an absolute workhorse for the Yankees.

During his seven years with the organization, Tanaka tossed out one of the best splitters I’ve ever seen, won countless big games for the team, and was beloved by every one of his teammates. He pitched 1054 innings for the Bombers and cemented his legacy more and more every passing season. Though the 2020 season is nothing more than a distant memory, one of the best parts was watching Tanaka shove for the last time. He posted a 3.56 ERA, struck out 8.25 batters per nine, and threw a 3-hit Complete Game shutout versus the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees could have another Tanaka-esque pitcher in Senga, especially thanks to his splitter, which should grade out as a 70+ grade pitch.

Kodai Senga may not be the answer to all the problems, and his lack of a dominant breaking ball is a tad concerning, but the make-up is all great. He’ll be thirty before the season starts, but I would love to see the Yanks sign him on a 3-year deal with a fourth option for $55-$70 million. His stuff is filthy, and even if the organization elects to use him as an opener or spot-starter to maximize that 1-2 punch he’s working with, he could still be a huge asset for this team next season.

Senga has also seen his walk rate come down every season since 2019, and if he’s able to limit both the longball and free passes, there should be no reason not to get him. There have been a-many talented Japanese pitchers that have come before him, why not strike while the iron is hot and bring Senga to the Bronx?