If Cubs do sign Fujikawa, it's an interesting move
No, the winter meetings ain't what they used to be.
Smoke-filled rooms and a bazaar-like trading atmosphere have been replaced by agents holding court and national baseball writers overloading Twitter while trying not to bump into each other in the corridors.
But the Cubs, who have plenty of work to day, already may have set the stage for an exciting week in Nashville.
Multiple reports Saturday said the Cubs have agreed to terms on a guaranteed $9.5 million deal with Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa.
The Cubs did not confirm the reports or return phone calls, perhaps because the deal is done pending a physical.
The deal is said to include a $1 million signing bonus for Fujikawa and salaries of $4 million in 2013 and 2014. There appears to be a vesting option, based on games finished, worth $5.5 million. If the option does not vest, there is said to be a club option for $5.5 million for 2015 or a $500,000 buyout.
The impending signing is somewhat of a surprise given that team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have said their preferred free agents are younger than 30.
Fujikawa is 32, but the reported deal is not extravagant, and he does have impressive numbers. For his six-year career with Hanshin, Fujikawa has an impressive WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 0.86 to go with a record of 26-18, an ERA of 1.36 and 202 saves. This past season, he was 2-2 with a 1.32 ERA, 24 saves and a WHIP of 1.32.
Aside from that, there's plenty of work to do after a 101-loss season and still far too many roster questions. If ever Hoyer Epstein could use an old-fashioned winter meetings, it will be this week.
The Cubs have added a pair of starting pitchers and a backup catcher, but they still have questions about their rotation in addition to needs at third base and the outfield.
"Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't," Hoyer said of activity at the winter meetings. "From my perspective, the winter meetings is more about being around all your scouts and all your staff in sort of an organizational bonding. In this day and age, with cellphones and email, we're always in touch with agents and general managers.
"I don't think it serves the same purpose it used to maybe 10, 15 years ago. It's still a great week for us. We'll have a lot of conversations. We may make a deal. But what I do know is that we'll come out of it having spent a lot of time with the people who work here. It's a bonding for the organization that really just happens once a year."
Here is a look at the key areas facing the Cubs at the meetings.
The Cubs recently signed right-handers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to free-agent contracts. They'll join a rotation that includes Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.
However, No. 1 pitcher Garza is coming off an elbow injury and Baker is on the mend from Tommy John surgery, as is prospect Arodys Vizcaino. So it's not out of the question the Cubs will try to add one more starter.
"We'll certainly be on the lookout for more depth," Hoyer said.
Among notable pitchers not tendered contracts by their former clubs Friday were Jair Jurrjens (Braves), John Lannan (Nationals) and Jeff Karstens (Pirates). Any would be an interesting fit for the Cubs.
Hoyer also said the Cubs would look to add to their bullpen to take the pressure off ace setup men Shawn Camp and James Russell. Fujikawa certainly can fill that role, but that raises the question of what to do with incumbent closer Carlos Marmol.
Hoyer on Friday said that if the Cubs were to bring in another late-inning man, it would be no "knock on Carlos," but all bets point to trying to deal Marmol beginning this week.
With center-field prospect Brett Jackson proving he still needs time in the minor leagues after this year's trial, Hoyer and Epstein will be looking for a veteran.
Michael Bourn (Braves) has been mentioned as a potential target, but he may be too expensive for where the Cubs are in their rebuilding plan.
As expected, the Cubs did not tender a contract to Ian Stewart after Stewart's disappointing season, which ended in June with a wrist injury.
The Cubs did tender a contract to Luis Valbuena, a journeyman who saw extensive time at third base in the second half. Youngster Josh Vitters proved he'll need more time at Class AAA Iowa after his call-up in August. Vitters has left winter ball in Venezuela and has returned home to work out on his own.
Rule 5 draft:
The 40-man roster stood at 37 heading into the weekend. The Cubs could select a player in Thursday's Rule 5 draft, but they must keep him on the big-league roster all season. This past year, the Cubs took reliever Lendy Castillo, and he had little impact.
The Cubs also could lose players in the Rule 5, including Nick Struck, the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year.
"It's always really hard," Hoyer said of whom to protect. "We probably had 10 different long meetings to go through that list.
"I think it's a good thing. It means we do have some talent. Every year, there's a guy or two you wish you could protect. It's not perfect. I guess that's why they limit (the roster) to 40. There are some really hard choices."