Two days ago, a very interesting report came out from MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi, stating that the Mariners are prepared to go after one of the best pitchers in Japan, Kodai Senga. This was a very shocking tweet to read, as there is so much to cover here.
Here’s the quote from the conversation between Dipoto and the media,
"Jerry Dipoto said he views Kodai Senga as an “impact pitcher” in @MLBHe confirmed the Mariners have done their due diligence on him and plan to contact his representatives at the appropriate time. @MLBNetwork@SeattleSports"
It is extremely rare to ever hear Dipoto discuss a specific player ahead of free agency, albeit this is a unique case. It is also surprising considering how great last year’s starting rotation was, which leads to some very important questions.
Could Kodai Senga end up on the Mariners?
First, let’s keep things in perspective. Shortly after that tweet, Morosi mentioned that the Blue Jays are very interested, as they have a strong relationship with Senga’s agent. The expectation is that the majority of the league will be in on Senga. So what makes him so special, that Dipoto is willing to make it known that they’re going after him?
In a potentially all-time pitching free agent class for teams looking for a horse to carry them for one or two years, Kodai Senga is a unique and refreshing option who has quite the resume.
Senga will be 30 years old at the start of the 2023 season and is one of the best pitchers in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Entering NPB back in 2012, Senga was a solid setup reliever before an injury in 2014 sidelined him for a year. When he returned, he came back as a starter and began one of the more dominant runs from a starting pitcher in NPB history.
During his time in the NPB, Senga has been a legit ace, posting a career ERA of 2.42 and nearly 1,500 strikeouts in under 1,400 innings. Senga throws an upper 90’s fastball that throws at the top of the zone. While he has other pitches, it is his famous “Ghost Fork ” one of the best splitters or forkballs on the planet. Seriously, this thing is otherworldly.
On the back of his splitter/forkball, he has led his team to win 5 Japan Series Championships and numerous awards for Senga himself. In 2017, Senga was a part of Japan’s WBC team, and he pitched really well in a semifinal battle against team USA. His performance got him nominated for the all-tournament team selection.
He profiles as a baseline #3 or #4 starter with the potential ceiling of being a #1. Considering the current Mariner’s rotation, adding a piece like Kodai Senga seems almost unfair.
Another major factor, and a reason he’ll be such a hot commodity, is the fact that he’ll be an international free agent, and will not have to go through the posting process due to his age. The Fukuoka Hawks don’t allow players to leave early. Senga signed a short extension with them containing an opt-out, and chose to do so once he became an International Free Agent without the aforementioned posting associated with his status.
So if Seattle were the winners for Kodai Senga’s free agency, the rotation rivals Houston’s, but it does open questions.
A Senga addition seems to spell the end of Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzalez in Seattle. Two much-maligned starters, both have had their moments flashing really solid pitching, but would appear to be no longer necessary.
A Flexen trade seems inevitable, and Marco is definitely one to watch. We did hear that Marco was a valuable asset at the 2022 trade deadline and that may be too tempting to pass up. Teams were calling about Flexen as well. If Seattle could potentially find a starting-level bat or bullpen piece, as well as shedding salary that helps you get Senga, it seems like a no-brainer.
I am curious how moving a leader like Marco would go over in the clubhouse. We are seeing the Mariners try to avoid a Kyle Seager sour ending with Mitch Haniger, and that could get even more awkward on a guy that has been here for the whole rebuild.
At the end of the day, I have Kodai Senga slotted in as a top 5 option on the market as a starting pitcher. He was not the guy I was thinking about when free agency opened up, but he gives the Mariners an incredible rotation. It’s an out-of-the-box idea that the Mariners should be looking at.
It may be a little heartbreaking to say goodbye to some really solid pitchers, but we’re not looking for solid anymore, we’re looking for greatness.