Mets’ Kodai Senga happy to recruit fellow Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto

ST. LOUIS — Kodai Senga would welcome the opportunity to recruit a fellow Japanese pitcher to the Mets, and if necessary to sell the team on the player.

But Mets might not need convincing. Team officials have already scouted Yoshinobu Yamamoto and could look to target the 25-year-old, who is expected to be posted this offseason by his team in Japan

Yamamoto, a right-hander, is 12-4 with a 1.48 ERA in 17 starts for the Orix Buffaloes. In each of the last two seasons he was the Pacific League MVP. In both seasons he won the Eiji Sawamura award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young.

Senga was a teammate of Yamamoto’s with Team Japan and also played with him on an All-Star team.

“I have known him since he was 20 years old,” Senga said Thursday through his interpreter, before the Mets’ 4-2 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. “He’s been at the top level since he was very young, and I know he has a ton of talent. He is an amazing player.

Kodai Senga
Kodai Senga joined the Mets last winter on a five-year contract worth $75 million.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“He’s an amazing pitcher all-around. He has velocity, he can throw hard. He has good control and command. He can also throw off-speed that has a ton of break.”

Senga joined the Mets last winter on a five-year contract worth $75 million, which has been money well-spent. The right-hander will take a 9-6 record with a 3.30 ERA into his start Saturday against the Cardinals and has become the staff ace following deals at the trade deadline that exported Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

Unlike the 30-year-old Senga, who was free to depart for the U.S. without his old team receiving compensation, any MLB team interested in Yamamoto would have to pay a posting fee.

To this point, Senga said, communication between him and the Mets about Yamamoto has been nonexistent.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

“He still has the rest of the season to get through, healthy hopefully, and the posting system,” Senga said. “I think once that goes through, the team might ask me and [Yamamoto] might ask me as well, and I would like to speak to both of them.”

Mets general manager Billy Eppler — who has traveled to Japan this year to watch Yamamoto, among others, according to sources — helped bring Shohei Ohtani to Southern California during his tenure as Angels GM and also signed Senga last winter. That experience can only help the Mets if they pursue Yamamoto.

“It’s very apparent that Billy pays attention to the culture of Japan and knows how to interact with Japanese people well,” Senga said. “I felt that first-handedly and his presentation skills are amazing, so I think that could work in the Mets’ favor.”

What would Senga tell Yamamoto about the transition to MLB?

“I have played on only one team and I only know what things are like with the Mets and I can fill him in on that aspect,” Senga said. “But I know there’s a difference between Japan and here, regardless of what team you go to and whatever he asks me I would like to point him in the right direction.”

Senga’s learning curve has included adjusting to the U.S. mound and larger baseball, as well as pitching in a five-man rotation instead of a six-man (though Mets officials helped with that transition by giving him extra rest between most of his starts).

One thing of which Senga is certain: Yamamoto would have an easy time fitting in with the Mets.

“Everybody on the team is such a great teammate,” he said. “I personally am not a very fluent English speaker, but everyone welcomed me with open arms and tries to communicate and I think that would be the same with any other Japanese player if he came to the Mets. I think he would be a great fit and the whole team would welcome him.”