Cubs turn to Japan’s Senga for free agent

The Cubs seem to be looking to Japan again in the free agent market.

They landed right fielder Seiya Suzuki a year ago, signing slugger Hiroshima Carp to a five-year, $85 million deal. It’s the biggest they’ve given out since Yu Darvish joined in 2018.

Suzuki struggled with injuries in his rookie major league season, but still had limited success. He delivered a .769 OPS and a 2.0 rWAR, which ranks behind only Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ and Willson Contreras among Cubs position players.

Now, according to reports in Japan, the Cubs have their sights set on Fukuoka Hawks right-hander Kodai Senga, who is triggering an exclusion in his contract entering his 30-year season. Senga had a 1.94 ERA in 144 innings last season, with 156 strikeouts and 49 walks.

Senga (whose first name is sometimes listed as Koudai) should be one of the best pitchers available in a free agent market that should include Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw.

Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation cited reports from Japanese newspaper Sanspo saying the Cubs and Red Sox were interested in Senga.

Sanspo also reported that Senga was signing with the Wasserman agency to represent him in the negotiations. Joel Wolfe, an agent for Wasserman, represents both Suzuki and Darvish. It was reported that Darvish’s recommendation from the Cubs had an influence on Suzuki’s decision-making process.

Senga has spent his entire career with the Hawks, who don’t usually send their players to sign in the United States. He accumulated nine years of service over parts of 11 seasons, allowing him to reach free agency.

Senga is listed as 6 feet tall. It is a hard pitcher that has a reliable splitter. Fangraphs reports that his fastball is typically 94-97mph with a top speed of 99. Their international scouting expert Eric Longenhagen cited the “explosive fastball movement” which adds to his effectiveness.

However, Senga is not considered to have mastery of the breaking grounds anymore. His slider and cutter need improvement, but he’s able to maintain his fastball speed late in the tee times, so there’s less concern.

The Cubs rotation is led by Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks. But there are serious concerns about the health of Hendricks, who is in the final guaranteed year of his contract. He threw a 4.80 ERA in just 84 1/3 innings last season, when he was sidelined with a capsular tear in his right shoulder after Aug. 22.

Left-hander Justin Steele and right-hander Adrian Sampson line up behind Stroman and Hendricks. The Cubs have an option on left-hander Drew Smyly, but it’s unclear whether they’ll exercise it.

Senga looks like a fit for Wrigley Field.

Brandon D. James