Cubs could again look to Japan to address a major offseason need
By Jake Misener
Last winter, the Cubs came out on top in the Seiya Suzuki sweepstakes, signing the superstar Japanese outfielder to a five-year deal worth $85 million, plus a posting fee. Now, if you piece together a couple reports from The Athletic (subscription required) as the guys over at Bleacher Nation have, it appears as if Jed Hoyer could look overseas again this offseason to address a major need on the roster.
In dire need of at least one impact starting pitcher this winter, just this week, we heard reports connecting Chicago to left-hander Carlos Rodon. However, these latest reports have Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga as someone who ‘will be pursued’ by the Cubs in coming months.
The 29-year-old hurler has been dominant in the NPB, working to a 2.03 ERA this year as a member of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Of course, that does not mean he’ll make the jump to Major League Baseball and put up similar numbers, but there’s no doubt he’ll be highly sought-after given the relative weakness of this winter’s class of free agent starting pitchers.
Now, we obviously don’t know how this will all play out. The Cubs will hardly be the only team interested in his services should he choose to come stateside next season and there are pros and cons on both sides of the equation.
For argument sake, let’s stack up Rodon and Senga side-by-side. Now, both have certainly shown the stuff needed on the mound to get outs at a high level. Of course, Rodon has battled some injury issues in his career, but he’s seemingly put them behind him this year with the Giants, racking up a career-high in innings pitched for San Francisco.
The major factor at play when looking at this choice is draft pick compensation. It’s still very much a thing after the involved parties failed to agree on the framework and structure of an international draft coming out of last winter’s owner-imposed lockout. If I were a betting man, I would assume that A: Rodon is going to exercise the opt-out in his deal that came into effect when he eclipsed 110 innings pitched and B: the Giants are going to hit him with a qualifying offer shortly thereafter, thus attaching draft pick compensation to the left-hander.
This is particularly relevant to a team like the Cubs who, as we all know, are trudging around near the bottom of the standings, putting themselves in prime position for a nice draft pick next summer. Signing someone like Rodon would cost Chicago a second-round pick and all the trimmings that go with it. Given how focused Hoyer and the front office have been on replenishing the farm system and ensuring it bears fruit for years to come, if they can avoid giving up that pick, I’m sure they would prefer to do so.
Cubs: As with any pitcher, there is risk with a Kodai Senga signing
To bring it full circle, signing someone who’s not going to be attached to draft pick compensation (a la Senga) addresses the team’s need in the rotation while also allowing the Cubs to hold onto their draft picks. Unlike when Chicago signed Suzuki last winter, there won’t be a posting fee attached to Senga either, another ‘plus’ if you’re owner Tom Ricketts.
As is the case with any pitcher, there’s risk involved. For Rodon, it’s the injury-riddled past. For Senga, well, you just never know how guys coming into the league from overseas will pan out. There’s a stark contrast in the level of competition and the history of pitchers coming over from the NPB is a mixed bag, to say the least.
But, hey. There’s no world where I wouldn’t want a guy in the Cubs’ starting rotation capable of running it up to 100+ and then breaking off one of his several breaking pitches. So add this guy to your list of names to watch. And rest assured, he’ll hardly be the last starting pitcher we see Chicago connected to in the weeks and months to come – I’d imagine it would be easier to come up with a list of guys the Cubs won’t kick the tires on when it comes to arms this winter.