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Cubs, Fukudome reach preliminary deal, pending physical

12/12/2007 - Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO -- The Cubs reeled in another marquee free agent,
reaching a preliminary agreement with Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome
on a four-year, $48 million deal to be their right fielder.

It was just last offseason the Cubs went on a $300 million
spending spree, the bulk of that on an eight-year, $136 million
contract for free agent Alfonso Soriano. Chicago went on to win the
NL Central but was swept out of the playoffs in the first round by
the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As the team approaches 100 years since last winning a World
Series, it appears the Cubs won't allow money to stand in the way
of them acquiring talent.

In Fukudome, they have added a needed left-handed bat who can
get on base, hit with power, run and play strong defense.

"He's been our target acquisition from day one," Cubs general
manager Jim Hendry said Wednesday when the Cubs announced the deal
pending Fukudome passing a physical next week in Chicago.

Considered one of the best outfielders in Japanese baseball, the
30-year-old slugger was a key member of the team that won the
inaugural World Baseball Classic in March 2006.

He had surgery on his right elbow in August and sat out the
Japan Series, but has 192 homers and a .305 batting average and
.397 on-base percentage over nine seasons with the Chunichi
Dragons, who won their first championship in 53 years on Nov. 2.

Hendry said the Cubs medical staff is convinced Fukudome's elbow
will be fine and he will be ready for the first day of spring
training.

Fukudome drew interest from the Cubs, San Diego Padres and White
Sox.

"Kosuke did have offers that economically were potentially
better, but there are a lot of elements that played a role in his
decision," agent Joe Urbon said. "Position, city, ability to win
and being the first Japanese player on a club. All those things
played a role. ... Of course economics played a role."

And so did Lou Piniella's experience in Seattle handling
Japanese players. He managed Ichiro Suzuki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

Fukudome will fill a big need for the Cubs, who declined their
contract option on veteran Cliff Floyd and traded outfielder Jacque Jones to Detroit.

The Cubs have right-handed power with Soriano, Derrek Lee and
Aramis Ramirez. But with the loss of Floyd and Jones, punch from
the other side of the plate was lacking. That's why Hendry said he
told Urbon the team would respect Fukudome's time frame in deciding
whether to leave Japan.

"This was option 1-2-3 as far as we were concerned," Hendry
said. "We couldn't be happier. He changes the dynamics of our
club."

Hendry said it would be up Piniella to decide where in the order
Fukudome bats, but that he could fit anywhere from second to fifth
because he combines a high on-base percentage with the ability to
hit home runs.

Fukudome was the 2006 Central League MVP, batting .351 with 31
homers and 104 RBIs. He won two batting titles and four gold
gloves.

Soriano returns in left and speedy prospect Felix Pie is
expected to take over in center after shuttling between the majors
and minors last season.

Hendry said he doesn't expect there to be a difficult transition
period for Fukudome. He will, however, have to learn the tricky
right field corner at Wrigley Field while dealing with the sun,
wind and cold at the neighborhood park that's so close to Lake
Michigan.

"This guy wants to play here. He wants the action. He's looking
forward to it," Hendry said.

"He knows how good a player he is and he demonstrates it in the
way he plays."

Fukudome will join the Cubs just as they are about to get a new
owner. The sale from Tribune Co. is expected some time in the first
half of next year.