Do Cardinals have interest in a Scott Boras client not named Bryce Harper?
By Rob Rains
LAS VEGAS – There might not be a reason for the Cardinals’ top officials to get together with agent Scott Boras at the winter meetings this week to talk about Bryce Harper’s future. They have made it clear they will monitor that market from a distance, sitting out any bidding war that develops but staying around just in case Harper somehow might fall into their lap.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for the Cardinals to spend some time with Boras, who also happens to represent another free agent that intrigues the Cardinals.
Left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is making the move from Japan to the major leagues for the 2019 season and has been posted by his former team, the Seibu Lions, making him available to all 30 teams.
Most scouts project Kikuchi, 27, as a middle of the rotation starter and the Cardinals are known to have scouted him and evaluated his performance over the last several years in Japan.
The way Miles Mikolas came over from Japan and pitched for the Cardinals last season is another reason the team might be focusing on Kikuchi, even though starting pitching does not appear to be one of their major needs this winter.
Adding a pitcher such as Kikuchi, however, not only would make it easier for the Cardinals to include another of their pitchers in a potential trade but could help cover the team for next winter, when both Mikolas and Michael Wacha are eligible to become free agents.
The Cardinals believe they have used Mikolas’ success to develop an analytical model which they believe can translate a pitcher’s success rate in Japan and make a more-accurate projection about how that pitcher will perform in the major leagues.
Over the last two seasons for Seibu, Kikuchi had a combined 30-10 record and averaged more than a strikeout per inning, recording 370 strikeouts in 350 innings while issuing only 94 walks.
The market for Kikuchi has yet to develop but likely will be focused on West Coast teams, who have a geographic advantage in pursuing Japanese players because of the shorter plane flight from Japan. A report Monday said the Giants “might” be his favorite, but the Cardinals believe they could overcome that West Coast bias if the price is right. The Yankees are another team which reportedly have discussed Kikuchi with Boras.
Signing Kikuchi likely would be cheaper that pursing some of the other top free agent pitchers, both in terms of salary and years. A team that signs Kikuchi, however, also would have to pay Seibu a release fee of between 15 and 20 percent of the value of the contract.
The deadline established by the posting system for Kikuchi to sign with a major-league team is Jan. 2.
Other news and notes from Monday, the first official day of the winter meetings:
* While the Cardinals are pursuing a left-handed reliever from outside the organization, they also are paying close attention to what Genesis Cabrera is doing this winter in the Dominican Republic.
One of the players the Cardinals obtained from Tampa Bay last July for Tommy Pham, Cabrera has been pitching in relief for Licey and in 18 games has posted a 1.46 ERA, allowing just seven hits in 12 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out 17.
Over his last 10 appearances, the 22-year-old Cabrera has no walks and 12 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
“It’s exciting,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, “but in terms of how you are thinking about the next six weeks I don’t think it’s going to change our mindset.”
Mozeliak said if the Cardinals can’t find the left-hander they are looking for they could just go with another right-hander in the bullpen.
“We’re not looking at it like the next couple of days either we do it or we don’t,” he said. “We’re going to be open-minded and see how things develop and where they go … the good thing for us is we do have time.”
* The Cardinals’ first move of the winter meetings was claiming right-handed reliever Ryan Meisinger on waivers from the Orioles. Meisinger, 24, made his major-league debut by pitching 21 innings for Baltimore last season. In 207 career innings in the minor leagues, Meisinger has recorded 252 strikeouts.
The addition of Meisinger puts the Cardinals’ 40-man roster back at capacity, which means they will not be able to make a claim in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday unless they make another roster move before then.
* Mozeliak said Yadier Molina will undergo a very minor medical procedure on Thursday on his right knee. Mozeliak said he had been told if it was the regular season Molina likely would not even have to go on the disabled list.
* Former Cardinal Xavier Scruggs is attending the meetings, looking for a new team after playing the last two seasons in Korea. He has interest from several organizations. … The Detroit Tigers announced that they have signed former Cardinal pitcher Tyson Ross to a one-year contract.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains