The Chicago Cubs pieced the bullpen puzzle together this season, without much of anything in the form of contributions from left-handed arms. No southpaw made 20 or more appearances out of the pen in 2023 and without Drew Smyly's late season shift a relief role, the picture would have been even more bleak.
It makes sense, then, that the Cubs are among a group of at least 9 MLB teams with interest in 28-year-old NPB closer Yuki Matsui, who has reportedly exercised his international free agent rights and could be poised for a jump to MLB in 2024.
Matsui, at least in terms of build, most closely resembles former big league reliever Billy Wagner, but actually measures a full two inches an 15 or so pounds lighter than the longtime Astros left-hander. His size will definitely throw some red flags with front offices, and it could water down what he's able to command in a contract before it's all said and done.
Yuki Matsui has little left to prove in Japan and Cubs could be a perfect fit
To this point in Japan, however, Matsui has been a shutdown bullpen presence, posting a 2.43 ERA over more than 500 relief appearances. He is the youngest player in NPB history to eclipse 200 saves, although time will tell if he'd immediately step into a big league bullpen as a go-to ninth-inning arm.
Last season with Rakuten, Matsui made 59 appearances, setting a career-high with 39 saves to go along with a 1.57 ERA, 11.3 K/9 and 0.890 WHIP. That marks three straight seasons in which the lefty has posted a sub-2.00 ERA, including a ridiculous showing in 2021, when he made 43 appearances en route to an eye-popping 0.63 ERA.
There's always risk with international free agents (as Cubs fans know, given the ups and downs that we've seen in the first two years of Seiya Suzuki) - but Matsui has checked every box in Japan and looks ready to make the jump to the big leagues. Given Chicago's glaring lack of left-handed late-inning options, this won't be the last time we hear Matsui's name this winter.