#3 - Shota Imanaga (NPB, Yokohama DeNA BayStars)
For much of the offseason, Shota Imanaga was viewed by many teams as a backup option for Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Now that Yamamoto has signed at such a high pricepoint, teams are likely bidding more aggressively for Imanaga than they would have otherwise. Although the Cardinals showed great interest in Yamamoto at the start of free agency, they should not show the same interest in Imanaga.
There are a few clear warning signs with Imanaga that make me want the Cardinals to stay away from him. First, his ERA is not that much better than the league average. At 2.80, which is around an ERA+ of 110 in an inferior league, I'm not too excited about what Imanaga will bring to the Major Leagues. Moreover, his very impressive 10.6 K/9 was a dramatic spike from his career trends, leading me to believe he over-performed in a contract year.
Many are excited about Imanaga's impressive fastball, but in NPB, a league where high velocity isn't as commonplace as MLB, he won't stand out as much. His fastball will certainly be playable, but not of the same caliber as Shohei Ohtani or Roki Sasaki. While Miles Mikolas signed for 2 years, $15.5 million after posting better numbers than Imanaga at age 29, Imanaga is projected to receive a contract north of $80 million at age 30. That's just too big a risk for the Cardinals to take on a middling pitcher who might've hit his ceiling last season. There are so many other starters St. Louis can target that are cheaper than Imanaga with more proven ability in Major League Baseball.