Much like the start of the off-season last year, the Chicago Cubs have been identified as a team with early interest in players expected to make the transition from Japan to Major League Baseball.
While the Cubs were unsuccessful in their pursuit of Kodai Senga last winter, the team has been heavily linked to Japanese pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Yuki Matsui throughout the past month and both would fill a major need for the Cubs.
In particular, Matsui would be a tremendous signing for the Cubs as the team is in desperate need of a late-inning left-handed relief pitcher. The growing belief is that Matsui will be signing with a Major League Baseball team this winter but a report out of Japan suggests a different National League Central team as the frontrunner for Matsui.
" So far, teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Padres, and Cardinals have visited to inspect the left-handed pitcher. In particular, it has been revealed that the Cardinals, whose fans are said to be ``the most passionate about baseball in the world'' and whose team includes Nootvar , who played alongside him in the WBC, is conducting a full-scale investigation. A Cardinals official looked over the list of set-uppers who will become free agents this off-season and asserted, ``There are B and C pitchers, but among the pitchers who can be entrusted with the seventh and eighth innings, he is in the A class.'' "- Yahoo Japan
We can chalk the "most passionate about baseball in the world" part up to poor translation because once Matsui is stateside, he will realize quickly that St. Louis is boring.
This is not the first time that the Cardinals have been linked to a free-agent pitcher that the Cubs may be targeting. Earlier this month, it was reported that the Cardinals will have an interest in starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray.
One thing that is clear is that there will be an arms race in the National League Central this off-season. Both the Cubs and Cardinals are looking to return to the top of the division and the winner could be determined by which team is the better recruiter.