Japan's Fukudome would make a difference for Cubs

  • Kosuke Fukudome, according to Bruce Miles, is a left-handed hitting on-base machine. He plays for the Chunichi Dragons.

    Kosuke Fukudome, according to Bruce Miles, is a left-handed hitting on-base machine. He plays for the Chunichi Dragons. Associated Press

Published11/2/2007 12:17 AM

Last off-season, the Cubs hired former pitcher Steve Wilson to be their point man in the Far East.

It was a move long overdue, as the Cubs had ignored Asia and its burgeoning talent base since Leon Lee left the organization several years ago.


One need only look to the world champion Boston Red Sox and pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima to see how important the Asian market is. Japan and Korea have sent many players to the big leagues, and don't look now, but China will be a factor in the not-too-distant future.

Now is the time for the Cubs to make a move -- and a statement -- and there is at least one player who can make a difference for 2008.

His name is Kosuke Fukudome, a left-handed hitting on-base machine who plays the outfield for the Chunichi Dragons.

Fukudome, 30, is an unrestricted free agent who won't cost a North American big-league club a huge "posting" fee, as did Matsuzaka last off-season.

Minor elbow surgery, described as a cleanup, limited Fukudome to just 81 games this year, but he managed to hit 13 homers to go along with a .443 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage.

You read that on-base percentage right: .443. In 2006, Fukudome's OBP was .438, and in '05, it was .430. Those numbers are not just foreign to the Cubs; they're absolutely otherworldly.

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They're also just what this team needs, and manager Lou Piniella knows it.

Asked about his team's poor approaches at the plate during a pregame media chat in Houston late this season, an exasperated Piniella said: "The whole thing is that, if you want selective, patient hitters that look for a base on balls, you sign that type of player over the winter, and now you got it You're not going to change what hitters do during the course of a year at the end of a season just because it makes a little more sense."

Well, Fukudome is a player the Cubs need to go out and get.

The beauty of it is that those in the Cubs organization who have not bought into the statistical or "sabermetrics" revolution (still far too many) that's gripped baseball can be sold on Fukudome's reputation as a player with all the "tools," because the Cubs like players with "tools." Fukudome can hit, run and play defense.

For those enlightened souls who have bought into the importance of such things as on-base percentage, my legion of stats-friendly e-mailers point out that OBP should translate well from Japanese baseball to American ball.

In other words, patience at the plate and swinging at good pitches work well on either side of the globe.

While the Cubs are at it, presuming they get at it, they also should take a look at right-handed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who went 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Kuroda struck out 123 and walked 42 in 179¿ innings, and scouts say he projects as a No. 3 starter over here. The Cubs have just the spot for him in their rotation behind Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly.

As an organization, the Cubs were slow to make inroads in Latin America, but they've done a nice job lately under Oneri Fleita. Their most prominent player from the Eastern Hemisphere is Will Ohman, who was born in West Germany (although many in the organization feel Ohman is from a different planet and wouldn't mind sending him back there after some of his antics this year).

It's high time the Cubs looked even farther east and come home with something good.

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