Despite the Chicago Cubs leaving Winter Meetings empty-handed, they’ve been linked to a Japanese outfielder looking to find a Major League home.
It almost feels like 2008 all over again. At the time, news involving the Chicago Cubs and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome were coming to light. A lefty bat with an ability to get on base was about to become the first Japanese-born player in franchise history.
On December 11, 2007, Fukudome agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal. Quickly, he became a fan favorite and had jersey sales that nearly went through the roof. Personally, I recall attending a game during his rookie tenure and noticed half the crowd sporting his merchandise.
Before the game, an injured Fukudome emerged from the dugout to a wave of cheers as fans flocked to the brick barrier hoping to get an autograph.
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That year, the outfielder made the National League All-Star team and ended the campaign with 129 hits, 25 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs and 58 RBI while carrying a .257/.359/.379/.738 clip. He also finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting where catcher Geovany Soto beat out Joey Votto.
In the final year of his contract, Chicago traded the then 34-year-old to Cleveland in exchange for two prospects. While some figured this move would spark his potential, Fukudome’s Major League career began to spiral.
His final appearance came on June 26, 2012, for the Chicago White Sox.
Dejavu or upside?
Like Fukudome, Shogo Akimaya is ready to break out in North America at the age of 31. Over the course of his career in Japan, Akimaya tallied 1,276 career hits, 102 home runs, and 467 RBI with a .300 batting average.
Now, according to Bruce Levine, Shogo’s camp is looking for a three-year deal that would cost less than $20 million; a good number for this front-office hoping to find a solution to their leadoff woes.
While Albert Almora Jr. hasn’t necessarily lived up to his potential, there is still hope that he will eventually find his stride. However, bringing Akiyama onboard would move Almora back to a bench role. Also, with Nicholas Castellanos possibly fetching a hefty deal in free agency, his return to the Cubs is becoming less likely now that the market has taken shape. Of course, given how he performed with this team, a reunion would bring joy to many.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what this organization is wanting to do with the little breathing room they have. Pending any trades, David Ross will write Kyle Schwarber in left, Almora center and Jason Heyward‘s Gold Glove in right.
If they decide not to pursue the 31-year-old outfielder, then we’d most likely see more of Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot. There has been some success for this move thanks to Joe Maddon but having him later in the lineup may be preferred. At least for now.
There is no telling what is going through the minds of Theo Epstein and or Jed Hoyer at the moment but surely, we’ll see if anything is shaping up at all. For what it’s worth, roll the dice and see what you get with Akiyama if other suitors fall through.