The St. Louis Cardinals have made the first signing since Major League Baseball's owner-imposed lockout ended on Thursday night, some 99 days after it was first installed. According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Cardinals have agreed to a two-year pact worth $5.5 million with right-handed pitcher Drew VerHagen.
VerHagen, 31 years old, spent the last two seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league. He appeared 39 times with the Fighters, accumulating a 3.51 ERA and a 3.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
VerHagen does have extensive big-league experience. Prior to heading overseas, he had appeared in more than 120 big-league games as a member of the Detroit Tigers organization. He posted career marks of a 5.11 ERA (88 ERA+) and a 2.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 199 innings. His contributions, as estimated by Baseball Reference, were worth 1 Win Above Replacement.
VerHagen wouldn't be the first pitcher to struggle in his initial exposure to the majors, head overseas for a few years, and then return to the United States in better form. Heck, he might share a rotation with Miles Mikolas, who authored a similar story earlier in his career. Mikolas had a 5.32 career ERA when he left for Japan in his mid-20s. He returned to MLB in 2018, and he's since amassed a 3.54 ERA in 73 starts.
It is worth noting that VerHagen seems like a particularly good fit for the Cardinals in one respect. Nearly 54 percent of his career batted balls in the majors were of the grounder variety. The Cardinals allowed a .217 batting average on groundballs last season, the second lowest mark in the majors, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers.
VerHagen is the second potential addition the Cardinals have made to their rotation this winter. Prior to the lockout going into effect, St. Louis signed veteran left-hander Steven Matz to a four-year pact worth $44 million.