Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and the Chicago Cubs reached a preliminary agreement Tuesday on a $48 million, four-year contract.
The deal is subject to a physical, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made. The agreement could be finalized as early as Wednesday.
Fukudome was considered one of the best outfielders in Japanese baseball. The 30-year-old slugger was a key member of the Japan team that won the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March 2006.
He had surgery on his right elbow in August and sat out the Japan Series, but has 192 homers and a .305 batting average over nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, who won their first championship in 53 years on Nov. 2.
After becoming a free agent, Fukudome drew interest from the Cubs, San Diego Padres and White Sox.
He is expected to play right field for the Cubs, who traded outfielder Jacque Jones to Detroit this offseason and declined their contract option on veteran Cliff Floyd.
All-Star slugger Alfonso Soriano returns in left and speedy prospect Felix Pie is expected to take over in center after shuttling between the majors and minors this season. The Cubs hope Fukudome will provide the consistent left-handed bat they seek to go with righties Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee.
Chicago won the NL Central title last season before being swept by Arizona in the first round of the playoffs.
Fukudome was the 2006 Central League MVP, batting .351 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs. He recently told the Dragons he wouldn't return next season, saying he wanted to move to the major leagues.
Congratulations Hendry, another great move on Fukedome, a needed piece in the outfield. This one was a real dice roll of all or nothing, but Jim did come through. Are there any more bullets in his gun? Probably a no tender on Prior, saving around another $4 million, but what to do with the money? I yelled about trying so hard to get Brian Roberts and giving away 3 good young pitchers, where Roberts has a lower OBP then DeRosa. Roberts is a switch hitter, which is nice and stole 50 last year, but is he worth all of the pitchers for the marginal differences of DeRosa?
Then relegating DeRosa back to a high priced utility man? Fact: He does not play an even decent RF, infield, you bet. We are still short on a lead off man and a guy who can hit in CF. Why don't the Cubs find a few more bucks and give those pitchers to Minn, leting Minn take a bite of Santana's salary? Now that would be a real rotation, with Dempster & Marquis fighting for the 5 spot. OK, I know it's just a wish! How about those same pitchers for Crawford.....now that would work and make up for the Cubs letting the Mets get Beltran. Come on Jim, take a few more swings!
12/16/2007 - 05:45 AM CST
Hendry: Fukudome "wants the action"
By Paul Sullivan, 1:48 p.m.
Kosuke Fukudome comes to the Cubs with a heavy burden along with his four-year, $48 million salary.
The Japanese outfielder is expected to improve the Cubs offensively, defensively and financially, leading to newer revenue streams for the organization that can now market the team back in Japan.
"He's exactly what we needed for our ballclub moving forward," general manager Jim Hendry said. "He's been our target acquisition from Day One. … We couldn't be happier. It changes the dynamics of our club in a lot of ways. We certainly needed a quality player in right field that can hit from the left side, and he plays the entire game so well that we’re thrilled to have him.”
The Cubs, San Diego and White Sox were all in heated competition for Fukudome’s services, and his agent, Joe Urbon, said the final decision was not based solely on economics.
“Kosuke did have offers that economically were potentially better,” Urbon said. “But there are a lot of elements that played a role in his decision… the ability to win, being the first Japanese player on a club… all those things played a role.”
The White Sox have already had Japanese players on their club, as have the Padres.
The immediate question is how will Fukudome adjust the playing in the majors? Japanese players like infielder Kaz Matsui and right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka have had difficult transition periods after coming over to the United State with great hype.
But Hendry pointed to Ichiro Suzuki’s immediate success in Seattle, and a few other notable Japanese free agents from 2007.
“Ichiro obviously was a marquee guy and hit .350 his first year (in 2001),” Hendry said. “The third baseman, (Akinori) Iwamura, hit .285 in Tampa. (Seattle’s Kenji) Johjima hit .291 with 18 home runs right out of the gate. So we’re not worried at all about a transition period or what kind of player he may be. He’s got the ability, the versatility and the character to success at a very high level here.”
Hendry said he’s ‘comfortable” that Fukudome will be ready to take part in spring training after elbow surgery last August, and is not concerned about any health issues. He wouldn’t speculate on where manager Lou Piniella would use him in the lineup, but said he can bat anywhere from second through fifth.
The one thing Hendry emphasized the most in his teleconference with reporters was Fukudome’s desire to be a game-changing player on a big-market team with a chance to win it all.
“This guy wants to play here,” Hendry said. “He wants the action.”
Well, they have tried everything else … it's about time the Cubs turned Japanese.
Kosuke Fukudome is coming to Wrigley Field. You can call him Kozy-K.
The jubilant Cubs couldn't be more pleased. The jilted White Sox may need to commit Harry Caray.
If my math is right"and I doubt it is, my being American"1,835 men have swung a bat or thrown a ball as a Cub.
Not a one has been from Japan.
They have had 16 guys named Smith, 11 named Johnson, 10 named Williams, nine Millers, eight Joneses, seven Martins, six Jacksons, five Gonzalezes, four Lees, three Quinns, two Foxes and a Foxx and a partridge and a pear tree.
They have had a Boccabella and a Bako, a Cohen and a Choi, a Miklos and a Mitterwald, a Kmak and a LaCock.
They have had a Lavender and a Lilly, a Sunday and a Monday, a Will and a Grace, a Sweeney and a Todd.
They have had a Fast, a Fear, a Flack, a Flint, a Floyd, a couple of Friends, a French and a Frey.
A Fukudome, that's a first.
If Harry were with us, he would order a round of Kirin all around.
Hideo Nomo once was on the Cubs' roster, but he didn't pitch in a game. A couple of other would-be Cubs were born on Japanese soil, but they didn't see any action.
It looks like the 30-year-old Kozy-K will be out in the Wrigley Field outfield, which could be the biggest home improvement since the Cubs dug up the infield and found Jimmy Hoffa and the tomb of King Tut.
Let's face it, this club needs all the help it can get, from anywhere and everywhere.
If my team hadn't won a World Series for going on 100 years, I would send out my scouts to every sandlot from Nantucket to the North Pole.
I would have tapped into the Pacific Rim's talent pool long before this, even if it meant offering a contract to a 12-year-old from the Taiwan Little League.
Don't forget, the Sox didn't win a World Series for 88 years until they brought Tadahito Iguchi to town.
And which pitcher won Game 3 of the 2007 World Series? Why, it was Daisuke "Dice-K" Matsuzaka, in his first year with the Red Sox.
Oh (and I don't mean Sadaharu), what did Ichiro Suzuki do in his first year in America?
He hit .350 and was voted MVP of the American League, that's all.
Behind the curve as usual, the Cubs hung onto Korean first baseman Hee Seop Choi only long enough for a cup of tea and they didn't give Nomo a shot until that's what his right arm was"shot.
Now, fearlessly, they have bested the Sox and others by chucking $48 million or so to Fukudome, who will set up shop in the cozy corner of right field where Sosa-san used to be.
Kozy-K comes to us from the Chunichi Dragons, the same team Tom Selleck played for in 1992's "Mr. Baseball."
(Not a biopic of Bob Uecker.)
Long the lovable losers of Asia, the lowly Dragons had gone 53 years without winning a Japan Series until last season. Holy Kobe beef, that was some slump.
Fukudome and his teammates heard cheers from an estimated 500,000 along the victory parade route. If he wins a World Series as a Cub, he will find out first-hand how 500,000 fans can fit atop a single float.
I first saw Kozy-K play 11 years ago in the home of the Braves.
He was part of Japan's team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that took a silver medal to Cuba's gold. When those two teams met in Fulton County Stadium, Cuba won 8-7 with two runs in the 10th inning.
Fukudome answered a few questions politely afterward about how it felt to play in a USA big-league park. He had attracted some interest from the Dodgers by then, even though he was barely 20.
After the defeat, he and Japan's players jogged out to the outfield and did some exercises.
That's how you stay fit even when you lose. Lou Piniella might want to look into it.
People say Fukudome can play. Trey Hillman, the new Royals manager, spent the last five years in Japan. He recently said you could stick Fukudome in either center field or right and "you could stick him in the No. 3 hole" in your batting order and feel good about both.
As for hitting a baseball, Hillman said, "When he hits it, I'm telling you that ball stays hit."
Which could be a refreshing change from other Cubs we know. Especially in the playoffs"that's where Alfonso Soriano went 2-for-14 and Aramis Ramirez 0-for-12.
Nothing they hit stayed hit.
Kozy-K's elbow surgery in August could impair him come April, but you can't be a Cub unless you have some kind of surgery. It's in the team charter.
I think this is the right man for right field and the right move at the right time.
In fact, if investing in a Japanese player pays off, then maybe Tribune Co. could sell the whole team to Sony.
MESA, Ariz. -- Kosuke Fukudome's career single-season high in stolen bases is 13, which he swiped in 2005 for the Chunichi Dragons. The No. 3 hitter in Japan does not run much, and Fukudome said he never had the green light to go.
That may change.
The Japanese outfielder, who will make his Cubs debut in Thursday's Cactus League opener, could be running more this season. Don't expect him to keep pace with Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, but Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Fukudome will get the green light once he builds up more leg strength.
"He'll steal some bases up here, and hit some home runs, and play some good outfield," Piniella said. "He's a good, all-around player."
Asked what he could do, Fukudome projected 15-20 steals for a season, although he added that it depends on the situation and if he's given the go ahead.
The Cubs will bat Fukudome third to help ease the transition from Japan. That's where he hit most of the time for the Dragons.
"I like the idea of having power in the fourth and fifth spots with [Derrek] Lee and [Aramis] Ramirez, at the same time it gives us more speed in the one, two, three spots," Piniella said of his batting order. "We'll see how it looks. He's a good hitter. He's hit third in Japan, and if he can hit third in Japan, there's no reason to assume he can't hit third here. We'll try it and see how it works."
So far, Fukudome looks at ease with the Cubs, although he confessed that the spring workouts are a little easier than Spring Training in Japan. He reportedly hit for two, three hours a day almost every day.
"I like him as a player," Piniella said. "He's serious, he works hard, knows how to play. He's got an all-around game. He can hit the ball for a little power, he can hit the ball in the gaps, he runs well, he's a good outfielder with a good throwing arm."
Any advice for his first game?
"He's a professional," Piniella said. "He knows how to play. Put him out there, have some fun, and get him in shape to play some games."
Fukudome's locker at HoHoKam Park is separated from Carlos Zambrano only by a drinking fountain. That might not be a good idea since Zambrano already has pulled a couple of pranks on the new Cubs outfielder.
MESA, Ariz. -- It starts with good morning. When Kosuke Fukudome arrives at the Cubs' practice facility, he is greeted in English as well as attempts by his teammates at the greeting in Japanese. Ohayo gozaimasu.
Fukudome is never quite sure what to expect in his locker, especially if Carlos Zambrano gets to the ballpark first. Zambrano greeted Fukudome on the first day by wearing the outfielder's No. 1, saying, "I'm No. 1 here," and has promised more pranks.
The 10th Japanese position player to sign with a Major League team, Fukudome will be the first to wear a Cubs uniform in the Major Leagues. The team is banking $48 million over the next four years that the left-handed hitter who won two batting titles and four Gold Gloves in Japan can make a smooth transition to the U.S. as the Cubs' starting right fielder.
"The key to his success is how he adjusts to American style," said Hirokazu Higuchi of the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper.
A big part of that adjustment is off the field. The Cubs hired an interpreter, Ryuji Araki, and a trainer, Yoshi Nakazawa, who used to work for Fukudome's former team, the Chunichi Dragons. Nakazawa is preparing meals for Fukudome during Spring Training, and even found a Japanese grocery store in the Phoenix area.
Some of the Cubs players invited Fukudome to play golf. There is a six-page cheat sheet with Japanese words for the players to learn, and includes everything from directions ("migi" is right) to animals ("kuma" is bear).
"Joe [Urbon] told me Fukudome is thrilled and couldn't be happier," Cubs assistant general manager Randy Bush said about a conversation he had last week with Fukudome's agent. "His teammates are trying to speak to him in Japanese. Everybody has made him feel welcome, and I think that started way back with the whole process that [general manager Jim Hendry] went through with being respectful with his culture and how he wanted to leave Japan the right way and not get ahead of himself."
Urbon and his company, Octagon, did their part to prep Fukudome, too. The outfielder was taught how to sign his autograph, and not in the Japanese kanji style, but in a script that included his No. 1 (sorry, Carlos). Urbon has received numerous offers from companies who want Fukudome to endorse their product, but those are on hold. Fukudome's first priority is to be a good teammate, a word he uses often.
Fukudome has tried to keep the Japanese media from being a distraction, and holds his daily briefings outside of the clubhouse. The Cubs haven't been overwhelmed the way the Boston Red Sox were last year when Daisuke Matsuzaka made his debut. About 300 Boston and Japanese media attended Matsuzaka's first spring workout. There were 30 on the Cubs' first full day of practice, and there will likely be five or six regulars who follow him during the season.
Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano played three seasons in Japan. The biggest challenge?
"The language," Soriano said. "You feel like you can't speak their language. That will be hard for him."
But what about baseball?
Spotlight on the Cubs
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
News and Features
• Cubs making Fukudome feel at home
• Piniella more at ease in second season
• Cubs organization report
• Cubs quick hits
• Cubs enter Spring Training with fewer questions
• Spring Training Report 400K
More team spotlights:
American ¬ Angels -- March 6 Athletics -- March 8 Blue Jays -- March 4 Indians -- March 14 Mariners -- March 7 Orioles -- March 1 Rangers -- March 9 Rays -- March 2 Red Sox -- March 3 Royals -- March 15 Tigers -- March 17 Twins -- March 16 White Sox -- March 18 Yankees -- March 5 National ¬ Astros Braves -- March 11 Brewers Cardinals -- Feb. 29 Cubs D-backs -- March 20 Dodgers -- March 21 Giants -- March 22 Marlins -- March 13 Mets -- March 10 Nationals -- March 13 Padres -- March 23 Phillies-- March 12 Pirates Reds Rockies -- March 19
"There's no difference," Soriano said. "It's the same ball, the same game. He has to concentrate and learn the league, but it's the same ball they throw to home plate."
Ryan Theriot's locker is next to Fukudome's, and the personable shortstop answers questions that Fukudome may have -- with Araki interpreting. And it's little things that need explaining. For example, Fukudome didn't know where some of his uniform pants were.
"Coming up in the Minor Leagues, there's always a language barrier with some players," Theriot said. "If both parties are willing to work on it, it's amazing to see how fast you start to pick up each language. That stuff's important, to feel like you can communicate, and not only here, but at a restaurant or wherever it may be. It makes you feel at home, makes you feel comfortable. We're going to work extra hard to do that."
Why all the extra effort? The career .305 hitter who has a .397 on-base percentage is needed in the Cubs' very right-handed lineup. When he was acquired, Lou Piniella projected Fukudome would hit either second or fifth, but lately is leaning toward inserting him third to get some speed and runners on base ahead of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.
"If he hits anything like we hear he can hit, I think he's a good addition to any lineup, but especially this one," Lee said. "We are right-handed dominant. To throw a lefty in the middle of the order will be big for us."
"He's a Gold Glove-caliber defender, MVP, he can run, he's strong, he's got surprising pop, which I think he'll show when he gets acclimated over here," said Bush, who scouted Fukudome in Japan. "What we expect him to do is play outstanding right field, be the kind of guy who gets on base a lot, be patient at the plate as a lot of hitters there are. When he gets on base, steal a base.
"One of the things that's unique in Japan is the three-hole hitter doesn't run," Bush said. "They all play the same type of baseball, and strategy-wise he's always hit third, but they don't run with the three-hole hitter. He runs good and is a good base runner. Depending on what Lou asks him to do, you could see a lot more stolen bases out of him also.
Hall of Famer Billy Williams has been watching Fukudome since he first arrived in Mesa, and likes the outfielder's balance at the plate.
"When you've got good balance, you have a good swing," Williams said. "I picked up his bat, and it's not a very heavy bat, but he's quick and gets it through the strike zone. The most important thing with him, I see when he takes batting practice, he hits a lot of balls to the opposite field. I think that's his game -- using the whole field. I was taught many years ago that when you use the whole field, there aren't many defenses that can stop you."
Most Japanese players see their home run numbers go down when they come to play in America. Fukudome's personal best was 34 in 2003.
"The ballparks are smaller over there," Bush said. "I would think, realistically, for Fukudome, you could figure in a full season he'll hit 15 home runs his first year. Depending on where he hits in the lineup, he'll drive in runs, he'll steal bases and get on base a lot. We'll take that. I think the power will show up more as he gets acclimated here. He definitely has power to hit the ball out of the ballpark."
Right now, the emphasis is on learning how to communicate. On Friday, Fukudome could be heard yelling, "I got it" during a fielding drill. Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry worked with Ichiro Suzuki in Seattle.
"If he's anything like Ichiro, he'll pick it up real quick," Perry said.
"He's got a great work ethic," Theriot said of Fukudome. "He's here early, stays late. You never catch him standing around on the field. He stays inside the ball really well, a good contact hitter. And, as advertised, he's a great defender. We're excited to watch him work out there. I think we can learn from his work ethic."
MESA, Ariz. -- Maybe the No. 2 spot is a better fit for Kosuke Fukudome.
The Japanese outfielder, switched from the three-hole, went 3-for-3 Tuesday, hitting his first spring homer and an RBI single in the Cubs' 10-6 loss to the Brewers.
"It's a little relief," Fukudome said. "Plus, there was good weather today."
He was 1-for-7 after batting third in four games, and Cubs manager Lou Piniella decided to make a change. Piniella had speculated this winter that Fukudome would bat either second or fifth, but after Spring Training started, the skipper said he wanted to insert him third. That's where Fukudome hit in Japan, and it was thought that would help ease the transition to the Major Leagues.
On Tuesday, Fukudome hit a one-out single in the first, then launched an 0-2 pitch from Milwaukee's Claudio Vargas over the right-field fence with one out in the third. With the game tied at 3, a runner on second and two outs in the fourth, Fukudome singled down the left-field line to put the Cubs ahead.
Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot was messing around with Fukudome before the game and asked for a homer.
"I said, 'How about a homer today?'" Theriot said. "I wish it was that easy."
Fukudome said Theriot told him he would get three hits. Maybe Theriot's message was lost in translation.
Before the game, Fukudome downplayed the lineup change.
"I'll play wherever Lou puts me and try my best," Fukudome said through interpreter Ryuji Araki.
Theriot had been batting second, but he isn't going to fight Fukudome for the spot.
"I'm not karate fighting him, that's for sure," Theriot said. "You've heard me say it a hundred times -- I couldn't care less where I hit. It's whatever helps us score the most runs."
The Cubs are trying to do whatever they can to make the outfielder comfortable. He won two batting titles in nine seasons in Japan, and his high on-base percentage and left-handed bat are just what the team needs.
"I don't feel any pressure because I'm third in the lineup," Fukudome said before the game. "I'm still getting used to American baseball and couldn't care less where I hit."
If Fukudome continues to hit second, Piniella said he would drop Theriot to the seventh or eighth hole. Geovany Soto likely would hit sixth, and whoever is in center would be eighth.
"We're not going to play around with it too long," Piniella said of the lineup. "As soon as we get people healthy, we can come up with a determination fairly quick."
Piniella has had to piece together a lineup without Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa. Soriano is nursing a non-displaced fracture of the tip of a finger, Ramirez has inflammation in his right shoulder but should be back Thursday and DeRosa recently underwent a procedure for an irregular heartbeat.
Fukudome hasn't been spending extra hours in the batting cage the way he did in Japan -- not yet.
"It's still at the point where I can actually feel if I'm hitting good or bad," Fukudome said. "I'm trying a few things, and seeing a lot of pitches and still at the stage of getting used to it."
Is Fukudome working on anything specific?
"It's a secret," he said.
After the game, he was asked if he could reveal the secret.
"After the season," Fukudome said smiling.
Fukudome is having a little trouble with his bats. He has a shipment from Japan that is made of tamo, which some call a Japanese ash, and which Ichiro Suzuki prefers. But they are drying quickly in the Arizona heat and breaking quite a bit. He broke his bat on Tuesday's home run.
Fukudome did spend a few minutes in the dugout before the game talking to some junior high school baseball players from Japan who have been working out at the Cubs' Minor League facility, and he also was interviewed for the umpteenth time by a Japanese TV station. Maybe one day he won't have to deal with so many media requests.
"It doesn't matter if everybody's watching [or] nobody's watching," Fukudome said. "My approach is not going to change."