Cards sign Katsuhiko Maekawa – Who?

Guess this is the week for a Japanese focus around The Cardinal Nation. First, we had all the excitement because the club’s GM met with the agents for two 33-year-old free agents, Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami. Then, I posted an unflattering comparison between Cubs “star” Kosuke Fukudome and former Cardinal So Taguchi.

Now, in the Cards’ continuing search to acquire obscure left-handed pitchers from every continent on the planet, they may be able to cross Asia off the list. (I understand that Ian Ostlund is from Virginia, but with a name like that, doesn’t it seem like he should be a Brit or a Scandinavian?)

According to a published report, the St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly signed Japanese native, 30-year-old left-hander Katsuhiko Maekawa, to a minor league contract. No word on if he was invited to major league spring training.

The source was a Japanese report picked up and translated by The signing has not yet been confirmed by the Cardinals, though I will update this article when I receive an answer.

Most recently, Maekawa has been pitching in Venezuelan winter ball for Caribes, where his work has been simply uninspiring. In four starts totaling 12 2/3 innings, he has allowed an incredible 27 baserunners, 12 on hits to go with 15 free passes plus five wild pitches.

With a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 2.13, it is amazing Maekawa’s ERA is “just” 6.39. On the positive side, he has a dozen strikeouts in Venezuela.

Prior to the 2008 season, the 6-foot-1, 216-pounder was signed to a minor league deal by the Washington Nationals but never made it to major league spring training camp. Maekawa was reportedly denied a visa due to the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident and driving for several years without a license in Japan.

He had likely caught the Nats’ attention when he delivered a 2-1 record with a 1.82 ERA in seven starts in the Dominican Republic last winter.

(Last month, the Cardinals had added another lefty who actually pitched for the Nats, Charlie Manning. The Cards picked Manning off the waiver wire and as such, he is on the club’s 40-man roster.)

From 1997 through 2006, Maekawa posted a 5.26 ERA and a 417/345 K/BB ratio in 609 innings during his career in Japan with Kinetsu (1997-2003), Hanshin (2004-2005) and Orix (2006). Apparently he did not pitch during the 2007 regular season in Japan.

His aggregate won-loss record was 31-45 and he shows a consistent problem allowing too many baserunners. His Nippon Professional Baseball WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was 1.60. (Major league average is under 1.40.)

Walton’s take: IF the Cardinals have truly signed Maekawa and IF he can enter the US in March and IF he can pitch reasonably effectively, the best we can probably hope for is a Ron Flores replacement for Triple-A Memphis. The younger of the Flores brothers was never seriously considered for a call-up to St. Louis during 2008 and left the organization as a minor league free agent following the season.

Update: confirms the signing. A major league spring training invite is not included.