Kyuji Fujikawa got a little bit of everything Friday in his welcome to Chicago.
There was the sentimentality and history of Wrigley Field, along with reminders that baseball can be a heartless business. (“Hey, how do you feel about possibly being traded next summer?”)
And, of course, there’s that impending “closer controversy,” even if it is media-created at this point.
But first things first, and we’ll start with the warm and fuzzy.
The Cubs made official their signing of Fujikawa, the former closer of Japan’s Hanshin Tigers, to a deal that’s worth a guaranteed $9.5 million over two years plus club and vesting options (based on games) finished for 2015.
According to the Cubs, the 32-year-old Fujikawa has 220 saves, a 1.77 ERA and a WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 0.96 over parts of 12 seasons with Hanshin.
The Cubs entertained Fujikawa in Chicago several weeks ago, and the pitcher seemed to love the experience.
“I’m very excited to join the historic Chicago Cubs,” said Fujikawa, who donned a jersey with No. 11 on the back, which he said was “younger” than the No. 22 he wore in Japan.
“I’m very excited and happy to wear this uniform. I also noticed that it was pinstriped, which (I) was wearing with the Hanshin Tigers ... I had played at Hanshin Koshien Stadium, which is somewhat similar to Wrigley Field. It also had ivy in the old days. Hanshin Stadium is known to be the start of baseball in Japan. That is one of the deciding factors for me signing with the Chicago Cubs.”
So much for the niceties.
The Cubs, under team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, still are in the early stages of their rebuilding project. On top of that, this second-year management team does not give out no-trade clauses. So with the Cubs having a recent history of trading veterans for prospects, Fujikawa was asked about the possibility that he, too, could be dealt at the July 31 trading deadline.
“It’s up to the team; I don’t care,” he said through an interpreter. “I want (to) thank Theo and Jed for being very aggressive in pursuing me. They welcomed me very much warmheartedly. I know that the team is very young. I’m a veteran. I will try to lead the young players, as well, and try to compete to win for the Cubs. I know what they had done this year. Hopefully, we can do better next year. I would like to be part of the building process.”
Surrounded outside by reporters, Epstein addressed the issue.
“The primary goal is, as he said, is to have him here as part of the solution,” Epstein said. “We’re a big believer in his talent as well as his character. We think he’ll be a positive influence on our younger pitchers. He’ll be a real stabilizer for our bullpen. We’re not signing him at all with the intent to trade him. Obviously, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, the team performs well and he’s pitching very important games for us.”
Whether he does that as a closer or setup man remains to be seen. Epstein and Hoyer continue to say that Carlos Marmol is their closer. After a rough start to last season, Marmol wound up with 20 saves. The Cubs tried to trade him to the Angels earlier this fall, but they backed out over health concerns over pitcher Dan Haren, their target in the proposed trade.
It’s possible the Cubs could trade Marmol before or during the 2013 season. Hoyer wasn’t getting caught up in the speculation.
“Our goal is to have the best bullpen possible,” the GM said. “You don’t have a good bullpen by having one good pitcher in the ninth inning. Carlos Marmol, if you look at his second half, I think he had a 1.42 ERA (1.52). He had a really great second half after some struggles in the first half.
“He goes into the season as the closer. Our goal is to have a seven-man-deep bullpen of good arms. Kyuji certainly adds to that. He’s had a great career. If you look at his career, he was a dominant setup guy first and a dominant closer. He’s done both roles. We know he can do both roles. We look at is as adding a great arm. We’re not worried about the role.”
Fujikawa again said all the right things about the closer situation. He also may have channeled his inner-Marmol by talking about how to get the job done. Marmol has had problems walking and hitting people during his tenure.
“First of all, it’s not really up to me where I throw,” Fujikawa said. “It’s up to the manager and the team. I still think I have room for growth as a pitcher and to try to fit in.
“My thought as a setup (man) was to pass it along to the closer, try to throw a lot of strikes and get three outs and pass it along to the closer. Mentally, as a closer, whatever it takes, I have to get three outs or four outs, depending on the situation. The mindset was to get outs, even if I have to fill up the bases and walk guys, my mentality was to get the three outs and close the game.”
Sounds like he’ll fit right in.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.