The Cubs may have been out bid on Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu by the Dodgers, but it appears Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are not done exploring their international options. Last winter the focus seemed to be on Cuba, which resulted in the signings of Gerardo Concepcion and Jorge Soler. After missing out on Ryu, it appears the Cubs are turning their attention to free agent Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa.
June 15, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein (middle) talks with Boston Red Sox players Dustin Pedroia (left) and Kevin Youkilis (20) before the game at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
According to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas News, the Cubs and their facilities were one of a handful that the Japanese right hander visited this past week. Fujikawa is a true free agent, so the Cubs would not have to worry about the sunk costs associated with a posting process bid like they would have with Ryu. With the near trade of Carlos Marmol at the very least signaling that the Cubs are open to trading their closer, Fujikawa would figure to be a cheaper replacement. Even with Marmol in the fold, the Japanese closer could also be a candidate for the set up role.
However, Fujikawa is 32 years of age, and the Cubs pursuing him would not necessarily match up with their youth rebuilding movement. Fujikawa would figure to be worth only a two year commitment where ever he lands, so any consideration by this Cubs front office would be a gamble on a possible prospect return come next July. Depending on what kind of salary Fujikawa’s camp demands, it may be worth placing the bet. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement limiting draft and international spending, “investing” in mid tier free agents to flip for prospects later is one creative way for Epstein and Company to stock the farm system.
On the field, Fujikawa would figure to bring some question marks regarding production, as more times than not Japanese pitching imports have struggled to translate their Japanese Central League success at the Major League level. Even the highly touted Daisuke Matsuzaka, whom Epstein brought over for the Red Sox in 2007, has only really had one stellar season that met expectations from the hype. The trend has been that Japanese imports have their greatest success within the first two seasons of their career in the United States before MLB hitters begin to adjust to the Asian pitchers.
Fujikawa features a 90+ mph fastball and recorded 24 saves with a 1.32 ERA in Japan last year.
With Angels and Dodgers also interested, the salary costs for Fujikawa may price him out of the Cubs range, but it is a name to keep in mind none the less until he is signed.