LAS VEGAS — Free agents aren’t allowed to talk to other teams until Thursday, but the Cubs might already have a head start on one of the more prominent starting pitchers on the market.
Hard-throwing right-hander Koudai Senga, a three-time All-Star in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, has been courted by Cubs right-fielder Seiya Suzuki, the American agent who represents both said Monday as teams and agents began to gather for this week’s general managers meetings in Las Vegas.
“They’ve been in contact,” agent Joel Wolfe said near the lobby of the Conrad hotel and resort ahead of an anticipated meeting with Cubs president Jed Hoyer later in the week to discuss Senga. “Seiya said very nice things about his experience in Chicago.
“He really loved his experience with the Cubs and living in Chicago,” Wolfe added of the Cubs’ 2022 rookie right fielder. “He’s really happy that he chose the Cubs. And I know he’s really looking forward to spring training already.”
Wolfe, who also represents Yu Darvish, the former Japanese star and Cubs Cy Young runner-up, sees the Cubs as a natural fit for his latest client, who — unlike Suzuki a year ago — is not tied to posting fee because the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks held onto him until their club control expired.
And NBC Sports Chicago's Dave Kaplan has reported the Cubs are "very interested" in Senga.
A 6-foot-2 right-hander with a fastball that touched 101.9 mph this year to go with a plus slider certainly is a fit for any team that plans to pursue starting pitching in the free agent market like the Cubs do.
“And the Cubs have a long history of being a welcoming destination for Japanese players,” Wolfe said.
“Senga’s very open minded and would like to play in a big market with a team that wants to try and win right now,” he said, adding, “ He has a great deal of interest in being in a big market.”
During Hoyer’s end-of-season media session, the team president said, “We absolutely want to compete next year.”
The Red Sox also have been linked to Senga, 29, in media reports.
If the Cubs choose to pursue Senga, their track record of detailed, personal recruiting pitches during the free agency process — keys to landing such free agents as Jon Lester and Suzuki — could be an even bigger advantage than their payroll flexibility.
“It does matter. It matters a lot more than it does with the American players,” Wolfe said of the personalized presentations, “because the American players have lived here, have been to the cities. They know the players; they know the coaches. They have a lot more connective tissue to the team through their own relationships and channels.
“But the Japanese players — most of them — are really seeing it for the first time, so they’re a lot more impressionable.”
That’s where Suzuki’s pitch would especially seem to help, even before the process begins in earnest.
If there’s a reason for pause from the Cubs’ side, it’s that Senga spent two stints the first half of the 2022 season on the injured list because of forearm tightness.
Wolfe said he was fine by the end of the season.
Senga finished with an 11-6 record and 1.94 ERA in 22 starts, with 156 strikeouts in 144 innings.
He’s a two-time Golden Glove winner, five-time Japan Series champion, two-time league strikeout champ (2019, 2020), a 2020 ERA champ and threw a no-hitter in 2019.
In 11 NPB seasons, he’s 87-44 with a 2.59 career ERA.