Report: Cardinals highly interested in Japanese reliever Yuki Matsui

Could the Cardinals be moving to land this star closer from Japan?
Japan v MLB All Stars  - Game 5
Japan v MLB All Stars - Game 5 / Kiyoshi Ota/GettyImages

The World Series hasn't even started yet, but the St. Louis Cardinals are already looking into ways to bolster their pitching staff for the 2024 season. According to Japanese daily sports newspaper Sports Hochi, the Cardinals have made an "official offer" (as translated from Japanese to English) to left-handed reliever Yuki Matsui.

The article notes that Matsui has informed Rakuten that he intends to pursue an opportunity to pitch in MLB as an International free agent, and has already been scouted by the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Padres. However, the Cardinals' interest in Matsui has stood out the most. It's possible Matsui's connection to WBC teammate Lars Nootbaar and Cardinals fans, described as the "most passionate fanbase in the world" could sway his decision to land in St. Louis.

With free agency not beginning until five days after the end of the World Series, the Cardinals are not currently able to sign Matsui, so don't count on a deal to happen soon. Aspects of the Cardinals' involvement were likely lost in translation (it's highly unlikely an official offer was actually made), but based on this report and a report from Derrick Goold listing him and even more pitchers linked to the Cardinals, it's clear their interest in signing Matsui is very high.

Matsui, 27, is coming off a 2023 stellar season for the Rakuten Eagles, logging 57.1 innings pitched over 59 relief appearances, recording a 1.57 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per 9. Sure, those numbers are a bit misleading, as NPB is amidst a dead-ball era where the league average ERA sits around 3.00 compared to MLB's 4.33. When considering MLB's higher level of play, it's unlikely Matsui will have the same success in America. However, his strikeout ability should definitely translate to the Major League level, and he would project as a solid back-end reliever who can close games when necessary.

With Ryan Helsley unable to throw multiple innings and pitch consecutive days, an injury to JoJo Romero after a breakout second half, and Giovanny Gallegos largely ineffective for all of 2023, stability for the bullpen is something the Cardinals will need. I discussed why the Cardinals should target Matsui in a different article breaking down the top NPB free agents, so I'm thrilled the Cardinals are interested.