ST. LOUIS -- In a move that adds to their rotation depth and perhaps creates more flexibility to deal a starter later in the offseason, the Cardinals signed right-hander Miles Mikolas to a two-year contract on Tuesday. Financial terms were not disclosed, but a source told MLB.com the deal was valued at $15.5 million.
Mikolas, who pitched previously for the Rangers and Padres, has spent the past three seasons playing professionally in Japan.
• Hot Stove Tracker
The move represents the Cardinals' first dip into the free-agent market this offseason. And it's not a traditional one. Mikolas, 29, became a free agent after three standout years in Nippon Professional Baseball, and that spurred interest among multiple Major League teams this Hot Stove season.
And unlike Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, Mikolas was not subject to international bonus limitations. That drove up the price of signing him.
"I think everyone's goal is to play at the highest level, which is here in MLB," Mikolas said on Tuesday. "While I was over there, I was trying to better myself with the hope that I would get a chance to prove myself back here again. … I just think the stars lined up. I had a great season, and I felt I was reaching the point where I was ready to come back and make that jump."
Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said Mikolas will "compete for one of our five starting spots" in Spring Training.
"Our scouts have watched him as he refined his repertoire, improved his velocity and became one of the most effective pitchers in Japan the last couple seasons," Girsch added. "While Miles has always had good control back to his days with San Diego and Texas, he has been able to sharpen his pitches and improve his strikeout rate over the past three seasons."
Mikolas posted a 2.18 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with 378 strikeouts in 424 2/3 innings over three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. In 2017, Mikolas led the Central League in strikeouts (187) and innings (188) while finishing with a 2.25 ERA, second best in the league among starters.
It's the sort of sustained success that Mikolas hadn't enjoyed previously. A seventh-round Draft pick in 2009, Mikolas debuted with the Padres in '12, and he posted a 5.32 ERA in 37 appearances (10 starts) for San Diego and Texas over the next three seasons. He walked 34 and struck out 62 in 91 1/3 innings.
The Rangers released Mikolas after the 2014 season.
Mikolas pitched exclusively as a starter the past three seasons, though a shoulder injury did limit him to 14 starts in 2016. He rebounded to make 27 starts this year, and featured a strong three-pitch mix with his low-90s fastball, slider and curveball.
"I think the biggest development I made was just command of all my pitches," Mikolas said. "[Also] getting a better feel of what it's like going through a lineup two, three, four times, which was a difference. I was a reliever in the Minor Leagues for most of my career, and when you come out of the bullpen, you're just kind of a gunslinger. A little more of a chess match as a starter was something I really got a grasp on."
Nicknamed the "Lizard King" after eating a live lizard before an Arizona Fall League game in 2011, Mikolas noted the numerous factors that played into his decision to sign with St. Louis. He cited the city of St. Louis (where he has some family), the organization's strong fan base, an opportunity to work with catcher Yadier Molina and a reunion with pitching coach Mike Maddux as some of those. Also appealing was the fact that the Cardinals hold Spring Training just miles away from his home in Jupiter, Fla.,
"I used to go to the Spring Training games here when I was a kid," Mikolas said, "so it's neat that I'll now be a part of that Spring Training."
Although adding to their rotation was not at the top of the Cardinals' to-do list this offseason, the club did recognize the importance of improving its starting depth. Mikolas will step into a rotation that is returning Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara and Dakota Hudson will all enter Spring Training jockeying for big league roster spots as well.
Having Mikolas as an additional rotation option frees the Cards to go in a number of directions with their pitching plans. They now have more flexibility to deal one of their starters, should that help the organization execute a trade that addresses an additional need. The increased depth could also allow some of St. Louis' young starters more time to develop in the Minors or by pitching out of the bullpen.
Also of concern for the Cardinals is ensuring they have sufficient depth to cover enough innings. A number of the club's young starters could be limited in workload this season.
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Despite owning a lifetime 5.32 ERA and having made his most recent Major League appearance in 2014, Mikolas will likely have his name called in the final rounds of many 10-team drafts next year. After all, the late rounds of the fantasy selection process are about upside, and the right-hander certainly has plenty of that following an excellent three-year stint in Japan (2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP). With multiple variables set to work in his favor -- including a talented batterymate in Molina nd a pitcher-friendly home park in the National League -- Mikolas is well-positioned to enjoy a successful return to the Majors.