After weeks of everyone in the industry expecting it to happen, the Mets finally closed the deal with Kodai Senga, signing the Japanese star to a 5-year, $75M deal with a third year opt-out. It’s their first big expenditure on an international professional in years, rounds out their rotation very nicely, and continues an overall fantastic (albeit expensive) offseason. Even with that backdrop, this may be the most exciting thing the Mets have done in quite some time.
The public scouting reports on Senga are fairly homogeneous simply due to the relatively small number of MLB scouts who cover the NPB. He has a fastball that touches triple-digits that he can manipulate, though it more often sits 95-97. His forkball is a devastating offering, nicknamed the “ghost fork” for how it disappears on hitters. It’s a brutal two-pitch mix, but his breaking stuff lags a bit and his control is at times lacking. There’s the potential for a #2 starter in here if a few things improve, but a more median projection would have him as a #3 with a realistic floor of a #4 or good late inning reliever.
On that assessment alone, you may be questioning why some (myself included) are so thrilled about this deal, and it’s largely because of the shape of the variance here. In short, Senga has the ideal upside/risk profile you want with this sort of signing. His stuff could really translate and he’s actually a #2 starter and suddenly his deal is a total steal. If he hits the low-end of his variance, he’s still a cromulent 4th starter or good reliever, slightly overpaid but not catastrophically so. And if Senga does actually settle into that 3rd starter median projection, he’ll likely have start-to-start variance; sometimes he’ll make opposing lineups look literally helpless, and sometimes he’ll walk 6 and give up three homers. The potential for those high end outcomes is particularly valuable in a short playoff series, and the downside case is manageable with appropriate bullpen management. Given that the Mets are essentially paying the same as the Phillies and Cubs are paying for Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon - guys with similar median outcomes but nowhere near as much realistic upside - the Senga contract looks like a steal.
Senga’s impact goes beyond the field however. Fans are no doubt painfully aware of the Mets’ lack of involvement in professional international markets over the last decade, especially in the pacific. They were not in on Yu Darvish in 2012. Or Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. Or Yusei Kikuchi in 2019. Or Ha-seong Kim in 2020. Or Seiya Suzuki in 2021. They weren’t seriously involved with Shohei Ohtani (though I’ll give the team a pass on that since Ohtani clearly wanted a team on the west coast). The last time the Mets signed a notable contributor out of the NPB was 2010, when they added Ryota Igarashi and Hisanor Takahshi to their bullpen on small deals. Only Kazuo Matsui, who was signed all the way back in 2004, could be regarded as a big splash by the Mets in the Japanese or Korean markets.
So yeah, this is a significant shift. After failing to reel in Tomoyuki Sugano last offseason, the Steve Cohen Mets have finally made the splash NPB signing they’ve seemingly been angling for. Just as importantly, Senga—who reportedly was looking for a coastal city where he could contend for a World Series right away—showed genuine interest in the Mets, a team with no track record of signing Japanese stars and a very brief history as a top-of-the-league caliber team. All of this is significant, both with Shohei Ohtani’s pending free agency (and his existing connection with Billy Eppler) and Munetaka Murakami’s likely posting after the 2025 season. Suddenly, the Mets could be positioned to tap into a reservoir of talent they’ve previously neglected.
None of this is guaranteed of course and I don’t mean to overstate the impact here - Kodai Senga joining the Mets does not guarantee Ohtani in orange and blue come 2024. But this signals a sea change, both in the way the Mets conduct business and the way they’re perceived. This, on top of Senga’s exciting potential and clear fit on the roster, make this one of the most exciting moves in the last two decades for the Mets, a statement that may seem ridiculous on its face but holds up under inspection. I’m throwing this grade an awful lot this offseason, but there’s no question this is yet another A+ move.