Exploring the Cardinals' history of signing pitchers from Japan and Korea

The Cardinals have dabbled in the Japanese and Korean leagues for baseball players a few times recently. Which players did they pluck, and how did they perform in their time stateside?

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates
St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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Recent rumors have indicated that the Cardinals are looking to the Asian leagues for bullpen help in 2024. Yuki Matsui, a thirty-year-old closer from Japan, and another mystery free agent (possibly Woo-suk Go) were in St. Louis for a meeting with the Cardinals. Either of these players would provide an immediate boost to a Cardinals' bullpen that blew forty-one saves in 2023.

While teams like the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, and Seattle Mariners are most known for exploring players from Asia, the Cardinals also have a decent history of signing players from Korea and Japan. Perhaps the most famous of these players is So Taguchi. Taguchi was a fan favorite during his career, and he was one of the first Asian players the Cardinals signed for an extended period of time.

After Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed his record contract, it is more likely the Cardinals shy away from signing a starting pitcher and instead fill holes in the bullpen. Both Matsui and Go would provide strong support in the back end of the bullpen, and they would bolster Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, and JoJo Romero.

The transition from either the NPB or the KBO is tough; the baseballs are different, the players are typically more talented here, and the cultural change alone would be challenging. Asian players will often see their stats slip a bit in their inaugural year in Major League Baseball.

I thought it would be wise to see how other pitchers from Asian leagues who have played for the Cardinals performed both in their careers in their former leagues and their inaugural season in the United States. While each pitcher is different, we can at least get an idea of what to expect should the Cardinals sign either Yuki Matsui or Woo-suk Go.