The Chicago Cubs continue to surprise (dare I use the “think outside the box” cliche?) this offseason in the players they pursue. It started with Dan Haren, whom no one outside of this place expected the Cubs to pursue, and now it’s a top Japanese reliever.
Kyuji Fujikawa is a free agent after dominating in Japan for a number of years as one of the top relievers in the NPB. He’s been on a tour of the States in the last week, and, according to the Dallas Morning News, one of his stops was Chicago to meet with the Cubs. Among the other teams believed to have interest, and with whom Fujikawa has met or will meet with, are the Diamondbacks, Dodgers (grumble), and Angels, among others.
Fujikawa, 32, throws in the mid-90s and has been putting up stupid good numbers in the NPB for a decade now. Heck, he hasn’t had an ERA over 2.01 since 2004 (when it was, gasp, 2.61). His K-rate is typically in the 12 per 9 range, with a walk rate of about 2.3 per 9. Really the only negative to which you could point is the fact that his innings pitched have declined of late, from 83 in 2007 to 57.2 in 2009 to 51 in 2011 to 47.2 last year.
At first blush, Fujikawa seems like an odd target for a team like the Cubs. Top-line relievers tend to be one of the last pieces you add to a competitive team, not one of the first pieces you add to a rebuilding club. At 32, he’s not likely to be a major component of the next great Cubs team.
On the other hand, the international market remains an area where teams with extra cash can try and find undervalued assets, so perhaps that’s the most appropriate lens through which view the pursuit of a player like Fujikawa. You can bet his agent will be warning him about the possibility of being viewed solely as a flippable piece, though. I could be wrong on this, but I’ve always had the impression, anecdotally, that Japanese players coming over to play in MLB prefer to know where they’re going to be for a set amount of time, and then stay there. In other words, the “opportunity” to be dealt to a contender at the deadline is not likely to appeal to Fujikawa in the same way that it might appeal to some State-side players.
Further, the Cubs might view Fujikawa as a closer in MLB, and, with the suspected departure of Carlos Marmol via trade this offseason, Fujikawa could take over that role in 2013 (building even more value).