Cubs, Fukudome reach preliminary deal, pending physical

Updated: December 12, 2007, 8:26 PM ET
Associated Press

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.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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