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Cubs get right answer from Fukudome
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

The Cubs confirmed that they have signed a deal with Japanese phenom Kosuke Fukudome.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 12/11/2007 10:46 PM | Updated: 12/11/2007 10:49 PM

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Jim Hendry got his man.

The Cubs general manager confirmed late Tuesday night that his team had agreed to a four-year contract with Japanese right fielder Kosuke Fukudome.

The deal is believed to be worth slightly less than $50 million total.

"He's a Cub, he's a Cub," said Hendry, who sounded as relieved as he did happy after the long pursuit of Fukudome finally ended.

When Opening Day rolls around March 31 at Wrigley Field, look for Fukudome to be decked out in uniform No. 1.

"He answers so many questions for us," Hendry said. "He's left-handed. He has a high on-base percentage. He's a great defender with a great arm. He can steal bases. He can hit anywhere in the lineup -- three, two or five."

Hendry and his aides hunkered down Tuesday at Wrigley Field and nervously awaited a decision by the 30-year-old Fukudome, a left-handed hitter the Cubs had coveted from the beginning of the off-season.

Overnight Monday into Tuesday Chicago time, Fukudome announced he is leaving the Chunichi Dragons, his longtime club in the Japanese Central League, to play in the United States.

"I won't be playing for a Japanese club next season; I'll play in the majors," Fukudome said. "I appreciate the fans who supported me for nine years. I hope that the fans continue to root for me when they see me playing in the United States."

The Cubs, the San Diego Padres and the White Sox were considered the top three candidates to land Fukudome, but all along the Cubs were considered the favorites because of their financial wherewithal.

During the day, Fukudome's agent, Joe Urbon, spoke of getting a deal done quickly.

"He's had an ample amount of time to examine the offers so far," Urbon said. "I'm supposed to talk to him this evening and an answer may come, or it may not. He may have additional questions.

"If this doesn't come to a resolution, I can see it coming into place the following day. I don't know what your definition of quick is, but I would say within 48 hours."

The Cubs had to play a waiting game to get Fukudome, who had to go through the free-agent filing procedure back home and make a respectful break with his old team.

Fukudome was limited to 81 games this year because fragments in his right elbow needed surgery. But he batted .294 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, a .443 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage.

For his career, he has a .397 on-base percentage, putting up OBP figures of .438 in 2006 and .430 in 2005. He hit 31 homers in 2006.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella likened Fukudome to a combination of Japanese players Ichiro Suzuki and Kaz Matsui, both of whom play in the big leagues, with Ichiro having attained superstardom.

"He's a very talented young man, really good player," Piniella said of Fukudome during last week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. "He would make a fine addition on many major-league teams, including ours. You know, if he decides to come here, we would really welcome his services."

The Cubs had been largely absent from the Far East market since parting company with scout Leon Lee a few years ago. Lee helped the Cubs secure Korean phenom Hee Seop Choi in the late '90s. Choi turned out to be a big-league bust.

Last year, the Cubs hired former pitcher Steve Wilson to be their Pacific Rim scout. Wilson and several members of the Cubs' front office watched Fukudome play many times this season, and they came away impressed enough to make him the Cubs' No. 1 off-season target.

Hendry credited Wilson, along with assistant GM Randy Bush and scouting advisers Gary Hughes and Paul Weaver.

"Gary Hughes has loved him since 2004," Hendry said. "This was a collaborative effort involving outstanding talent evaluators."

On-base percentage has not been a strong point with the Cubs in recent years, and management now seems to be appreciating its value to an offense. Hendry also has entertained talks with the Baltimore Orioles for second baseman Brian Roberts, another high-OBP player.

If the Cubs land Roberts and Fukudome, they could field a batting order that begins with Alfonso Soriano and follows with Roberts, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Fukudome.

Many Japanese players choose to stay with their teams despite having the option to leave. Although acknowledging the difficulty of his client's decision, Urbon said Fukudome is excited about coming to the United States.

"Without question," the agent said. "My sense is that he's excited. He's prepared, and he's looking forward to the next exciting chapter in his life."