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Cardinals Met With Yuki Matsui, Have Considered Hector Neris

Cardinals Met With Yuki Matsui, Have Considered Hector Neris

The Cardinals acted quickly to reshape their rotation this offseason, signing right-handers Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn within a span of a week. They’ve since shipped outfielder Tyler O’Neill to the Red Sox in a trade that netted a pair of potential bullpen arms, but they’re not done looking for help in their relief corps. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier this week that the Cards have at least held internal discussions about free agent righty Hector Neris, and Mark Feinsand of reports that the Cardinals hosted star NPB lefty Yuki Matsui for a meeting in St. Louis just yesterday. Goold also again linked the Cards to free agent Phil Maton, to whom they’ve been previously tied.

The meeting with Matsui is the more notable development at the moment. Reports out of Japan back in October pegged the Cardinals as a team with interest in the five-time NPB All-Star, but a sitdown in St. Louis is a more concrete indicator.

The 28-year-old Matsui has saved 30 or more games for the Rakuten Golden Eagles on six different occasions, including this past season’s career-high mark of 39. He pitched 57 1/3 innings in 2023 and worked to a scintillating 1.57 ERA, giving him three straight seasons with an ERA that clocked in under 2.00. Matsui also fanned nearly a third of his opponents and turned in a 5.9% walk rate. Dating back to 2019, the southpaw boasts a 2.20 ERA, 35.8% strikeout rate and 9.4% walk rate.

Matsui’s track record in Japan is clearly excellent, but there’s at least some reason to think MLB clubs might have some trepidation. He’s listed at just 5’8″ and 167 pounds — a Tim Collins-esque frame that rarely has found much success in the big leagues. MLBTR spoke to multiple scouts and evaluators about Matsui and other international free agents prior to the onset of free agency and received mixed reviews, though Matsui did draw praise for his slider and deceptive delivery. Every team’s opinion on Matsui will vary, of course, and it stands to reason that there are big league clubs that believe he can be a viable late-inning reliever in North American ball — even if he can’t quite replicate his staggering NPB numbers.

Because of his lengthy track record in NPB — he’s pitched 10 full seasons despite his youth — Matsui accrued enough service time to be a free agent who can sign in MLB without being subject to the MLB/NPB posting system. (NPB requires nine years of service to become an…

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