Target - Yuki Matsui, Rakuten Eagles
We’ve talked about starters, but the Cardinals will also need to bolster their bullpen this offseason. For Japanese relievers, Matsui is one of the best.
He recently notched his 200th career save, becoming the youngest in NPB history to accomplish the feat. He’s posted an ERA under 2.00 in 4 of the last 5 seasons, including a remarkable 0.63 ERA through 43 innings in 2021. His strikeout numbers, which should look similar in MLB, are also electric. He doesn’t have the velocity of Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley, but Matsui’s command and breaking pitches make up for it resulting in a 12.0 career K/9. Matsui did have a bit of trouble with the MLB baseball at the 2023 WBC, but many Japanese pitchers have noted a quick adjustment, so the level of concern should be low.
Perhaps his most valuable tool, however, is his availability. With Giovanny Gallegos’ high-leverage effectiveness in question, Ryan Helsley’s availability and health spotty at times, Hicks traded to Toronto, and an injury to breakout reliever JoJo Romero, Matsui would be a perfect back-end bullpen arm to solidify the staff who won’t command nearly as large a contract as top free agent Josh Hader. Matsui is notably available as an International free agent, meaning he will not be attached to a posting fee nor will the Cardinals give up draft pick compensation. Yes, the Cardinals’ primary focus this offseason should be on starting pitching, but Matsui’s ceiling as a cheap All-Star-worthy closer makes him a very intriguing option for the pen.