Senga strikes out

Right-hander Kodai Senga said he made no progress in persuading the SoftBank Hawks to allow him to move to the major leagues through the posting system following his dinner with the team’s president, Yoshimitsu Goto.

Senga, who is a top target of MLB scouts visiting Japan, will not be eligible for international free agency until after the 2022 season. So unless the Hawks break ranks with the other team opposed to posting, the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, Senga will have to wait until the autumn of 2022, or move as a domestic free agent after the 2020 season to a team that is willing to post him or holdout and refuse to sign a contract for 2020 until the Hawks trade him or accede to his wishes.

As unlikely as it seems, there are precedents for this in Japan. Yoshio Itoi held out for more money from the Nippon Ham Fighters after the 2012 season and the club traded him to the Orix Buffaloes. Ironically, the cover story was that the team traded him because they refused to post him. When I asked him about his desire to play in the major leagues a year later, he looked at me like I had two heads.

Following the 2002 season, the Kintetsu Buffaloes bungled the posting paperwork for reliever Akinori Otsuka and he was unable to go to the States that winter. As a result, he held out until Kintetsu assigned his contract to the Chunichi Dragons, where he pitched for one year before being posted.

That is a highly unusual example since NPB clubs treat players cast off in that fashion as if they carried highly contagious diseases. When Norihiro Nakamura left Orix after a contract dispute, 10 teams wouldn’t even give him a tryout. The same went for Daisuke Matsuzaka a year ago. Although he was a free agent, one guesses the Hawks spread some less-than complimentary stories about the right-hander, whom they wanted to re-sign at a bargain price.

The common thread in these last three examples is the Central League’s Dragons. They signed Otsuka, and were the only club to give tryouts to Nakamura and Matsuzaka.

In the early days of the current free agent system, the then-Daiei Hawks had a hardline policy against negotiating with their players who filed for free agency, but that flew out the window after the 1999 season, when their top pitcher, Kimiyasu Kudo, filed for free agency, and the Hawks got in line to try and persuade him to stay in Fukuoka.

The Hawks will change their stance, but only after a player they covet in the draft tells them to agree to post him or drop dead — although using nicer language than that.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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