The first post-lockout signing is now in the books, with the St. Louis Cardinals agreeing to a two-year deal with 6-foot-6 righty Drew VerHagen, a former Detroit Tiger who had spent the last two seasons in Japan with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
The deal is worth $2.5 million in the first year and $3 million in the second, with up to $1 million in performance bonuses in each season. VerHagen, 31, threw about 100 innings in each of his two seasons in Japan, and gives St. Louis another arm capable of making spot starts or providing length out of the bullpen, something the Cardinals needs since much of their 40-man roster is occupied by single-inning relievers and starting prospects with sketchy command, like Angel Rondón and Johan Oviedo.
VerHagen posted a 3.50 ERA and 1.17 WHIP during his two seasons with the Fighters while showing stuff and velocity similar to what he showed during his six-season big league tenure with Detroit. His fastball averaged 94 mph in Japan and was up to 99; he threw 24 pitches at 97 mph and above in 2021, per Synergy Sports. His low-80s slider was his secondary weapon of choice, and a loopy curveball and seldom-used changeup — he deployed it more frequently in NPB than MLB (5% vs. less than 1%), but its use was still rare — round out VerHagen’s four pitch mix.
The Tigers tinkered with VerHagen’s delivery while he was under their wing, and the style of pitching he showed later into his big league tenure continued overseas. Originally using a cross-bodied, three-quarters delivery, VerHagen’s position on the rubber moved toward first base, his stride direction opened up a bit, and his arm slot raised throughout his Tigers career:
This continued in Japan, and even though VerHagen’s fastball is technically a sinker, the newer arm slot helps him miss bats above the strike zone, while peppering that area with the fastball helps him set up his slow curve. VerHagen’s slider sits in the 79-83 mph range and has biting two-plane action when he locates it to his glove side, which he does with middling consistency. If there’s a path for VerHagen to outperform expectations and actually grab hold of a rotation spot at some point during the year, perhaps it’ll come from the continued development of his split/change.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.
Just wondering, from a communication during the lockout standpoint, does it make any difference that he did not play in the US last season? Obviously they could not announce any MLB level signing during the lockout, but could this deal have been done during the lockout? or are we to assume that the deal was pretty much done back in Nov and just didn’t get signed/official until today?
The former, and maybe a little of the latter. He wasn’t on any 40-man roster at the end of last season, so teams could talk to him during the lockout, but he could not be signed to an MLB contract (and thus placed on the 40-man roster) during the lockout.