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Seeking upgrades in the east

As the Rockies look to partake in a busy offseason, it may be worth their time to look to Japan to improve the team

The Colorado Rockies are in a transitional period. After a 2022 season in which there was little to be excited for, they enter a winter season with questions aplenty. Many of those questions pertain to potential free agent additions, and with the list of available players carrying some of MLB’s very best among its number, we can only wonder if Colorado will find themselves being uncharacteristically thrifty in their efforts to improve.

With that said, virtually every club in baseball will be salivating at the prospect of adding talent like Aaron Judge, Jacob DeGrom, or Carlos Rodón to their roster. The battles between agents and front offices will be waged — can the Rockies hope to stack up against teams like the Yankees and Dodgers? What if they didn’t have to?

Following the Orix Buffaloes winning this year’s Japan Series in a thrilling seven-game battle with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, rumors have surfaced that Orix may be open to posting star outfielder Masataka Yoshida. Yoshida, a 30-year-old left-handed bat, became one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s most feared hitters this year as he batted .336/.449/.559 while adding 21 home runs and 89 RBI.

Enticing to Rockies fans in particular will be Yoshida’s penchant for contact. A two-time batting champion in NPB, Yoshida owns a career strikeout percentage of a miniscule 9.4 percent. For reference, the lowest strikeout percentage of a qualified Rockies batter this past season was José Iglesias’s 12%. No National League K’d at less than a a 19% clip. New Rockies hitting coach “Bam Bam” Meulens (who struck out a fair amount in his own big league career) would be happy to have such discipline at his disposal.

Yoshida’s defense is not exactly sparkling, but that alone shouldn’t be a massive hindrance to a team seeking outfield upgrades. A trio of Kris Bryant, Randal Grichuk, and Masataka Yoshida roaming the Coors Field grass could be a formidable force for opposing teams to face. The Japanese import could also be moved around the lineup, giving Bud Black more offensive options. He could realistically bat Yoshida anywhere from fourth to seventh, moving around hotter hands as necessary.

The Rockies would also benefit from adding a lefty bat, as their current offensive structure utilizes predominantly right-handed hitters. Of the batters expected to return in 2023, only Charlie Blackmon, Michael Toglia (switch-hitter), and Garrett Hampson (switch-hitter) bat from the left side. A little variety never hurt anybody.

Yoshida may be a hard sell, as his services will undoubtedly be sought by any number of MLB clubs. The Phillies, in particular, will make a likely landing spot as Yoshida himself is a massive Bryce Harper fan. After narrowly missing out on a World Series championship, partly due to an anemic offense in the last three games of the series, Philadelphia would love to add Yoshida to their ranks to bolster their output. There are other options that Colorado could turn to, though.

Kodai Senga is an arm that carries some interesting possibilities. The 29-year-old right-handed pitcher has pitched 11 seasons in NPB and collected a career record of 87-44 with a sterling 2.59 ERA. Playing for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks for the entirety of his professional career, Senga has been a dominant force and a staple of their rotation. He’s allowed an ERA over three just once in his decade-plus of work, and he’s on the heels of arguably his finest professional season as he collected a 1.89 ERA over 148 innings of work, striking out 159 in that span.

Let’s again compare his work in 2022 to Colorado’s. Senga’s 9.7 strikeouts per nine are more than any Rockies starter, and his WHIP is bested only by Daniel Bard’s sub-1 mark. Senga’s only real weakness may be that he allows a few too many free passes — 50 this past season. It’s certainly not catastrophic, but something to work on nonetheless.

Fans of the World Baseball Classic will recognize Senga from the 2017 iteration of the event, in which he participated with Team Japan. All he did back then was throw 11 innings of one-run ball while striking out 16. Senga has also participated in the 2020 Olympics, helping host country Japan to a gold medal as he threw two scoreless innings in the final contest versus team USA.

Senga’s arsenal of fastball, slider, cutter, and forkball could make for a fascinating experiment at altitude. He’s shown his ability to keep the ball in the park — a career HR/9 of 0.6 — and that forkball could get nasty if he can tweak it to adjust for altitude.

Of course, like with his countryman Yoshida, Senga’s services will be highly requested. The Chicago Cubs have already been linked to the righty, which makes sense as he and Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki (who have played together in the past) have reportedly been in talks discussing a reunion recently. The Rockies will have to wrest him away from this homecoming in the Windy City.

Colorado, reportedly in the market for some starting pitching help, could benefit from Senga’s help. He’d be an effective starter to add to their ranks and hopefully help limit the workload and expectations placed upon rotation stalwarts Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland.

Whether Colorado ends up signing either of these exciting players or not, one hopes that they will at least be in the running. Both Yoshida and Senga could make for fun additions to a Rockies roster that could use a shot in the arm. While they scour the free agent market for upgrades, let’s see if they decide to look afar for some 援助.