The St. Louis Cardinals' pitching rotation in 2024 is unsettled, and with only Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz virtually guaranteed spots next season, the team would be wise to foray into the Asian market again. One pitcher whom the Cardinals have scouted and could be interested in signing is Yokohama DeNA BayStars lefty Shota Imanaga.
The Cardinals were one of nine teams to send a scout to watch Imanaga pitch in Japan last year. The 29-year-old has pitched in Nippon Professional Baseball since 2016 and displayed his talent to a wider audience while pitching for Team Japan at the World Baseball Classic this year, where he pitched the first two innings of the championship game and held the U.S. to one run on four hits.
Imanaga's arsenal comprises a fastball, changeup, cutter, curveball, and the occasional slider. Imanaga doesn't throw especially hard, with his fastball usually sitting in the low 90s.
Through eight seasons in NPB, Imanaga has a 3.38 ERA and 959 strikeouts in 954 innings. Always a control artist, Imanaga has reached new heights this year, walking a microscopic nine batters in 110.1 innings so far while striking out 126.
Imanaga would fit the Cardinals' approach in signing control-oriented southpaws while also giving the team some desperately needed swing-and-miss stuff.
Imanaga isn't eligible for international free agency until 2025, but he has stated his desire to pitch in the major leagues. The BayStars could post him after this season and allow any major league team to negotiate with him. Although the BayStars have never posted a player before, Imanaga will be a free agent within NPB after 2023, so the BayStars might be tempted to let him go overseas and get some money for him instead of exposing him to a rival team.
John Mozeliak has publicly expressed the Cardinals' need to take a different direction with pitching and emphasize strikeouts. If the BayStars decide to post Imanaga for next season, the Cardinals should jump at the chance to sign him. If they acquire a free agent such as Aaron Nola or Blake Snell alongside him, the team will suddenly have a respectable rotation going into 2024.