The San Diego Padres signed Japanese relief pitcher Yuki Matsui to a five-year, $28 million deal. Matsui has an opt-out after years three and four; there is an additional injury clause that turns the final year of the deal into a club option worth $7 million. It is a unique contract, but not a pricey one.
The St. Louis Cardinals were rumored to be in on the twenty-eight-year-old closer from the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He accumulated 236 saves in 501 appearances during his time in the NPB, so he is no stranger to high-leverage situations. Matsui is most known for his strikeout potential (31.85% rate for his career), his plethora of pitches, and his decent velocity given his size.
The Cardinals absolutely could have offered Matsui a very similar deal. The average annual value on his contract is $5.6 million, well within St. Louis's budget. Yet, Matsui still signed with San Diego. Why is this the case? Matsui, as recently as last week, met with the Cardinals. Lars Nootbaar more than likely contacted Matsui to sell him on the team and the city, similar to what he did with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, so why couldn't the Cardinals close a deal with the five-time NPB All-Star?
The Cardinals need another back-end reliever. JoJo Romero, Giovanny Gallegos, and Ryan Helsley each have their own concerns for next year; John Mozeliak didn't close the door on the team's offseason just yet, so it seemed like the Cardinals and Yuki Matsui were a good fit. He's a lefty with plenty of experience closing games. He and Helsley could work together to finish out victories for St. Louis. Instead, another National League West team snatches a player from the rest of the league.
Brenden Schaeffer of KMOV also discussed this curious situation between the St. Louis Cardinals and Yuki Matsui. I agree with him on many of these points, and you should give his podcast a listen here.
Yuki Matsui's signing with the San Diego Padres tells us six things about the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. The Cardinals were concerned about his size.
Yuki Matsui is not your prototypical pitcher. He stands 5'8" tall and weighs under 170 pounds. That would make him nearly seven inches shorter than the average MLB pitcher last year (6'2"). While height isn't everything, it sure does help. Tim Lincecum and Greg Maddux were both considered short (5'11" and 6'0", respectively), but Matsui is a full three inches shorter than Lincecum.
Marcus Stroman, the shortest pitcher in baseball last year stood shorter than Matsui at 5'7", but he weighed 180 and could still dominate in a game. Short pitchers can thrive, but height typically helps a pitcher. Weight is also a factor. Last year, the lightest pitcher was Reiver Sanmartin of the Cincinnati Reds at just 160 pounds, but he was also 6'2". Matsui is a comparable weight but is significantly shorter.
We could assume St. Louis stayed away from Matsui due to fear of his size and potential ineffectiveness. Injuries can occur more often in shorter pitchers, and St. Louis needs healthy arms next year.