Cubs finalize deal, introduce Fujikawa at Wrigley
Righty inks two-year, $9.5M contract, wanted to play on North Side since first visit
CHICAGO -- Koshien Stadium is often referred to as the Wrigley Field of Japan, and it even had ivy on its outfield walls, so when Kyuji Fujikawa toured the Cubs' ballpark, it was no surprise that he felt right at home.
Fujikawa, who played for the Hanshin Tigers and called Koshien his home field, officially joined the Cubs on Friday, agreeing to a two-year, $9.5 million contract. The deal includes a signing bonus of $1 million and $4 million in salaries in 2013 and '14. There also is a vesting option valued at $5.5 million or $6 million, to be determined by games finished. If the option doesn't vest, the Cubs can buy him out for $500,000.
He visited Chicago and Wrigley Field a few weeks ago and was sold on the city and the ballpark then.
"From that day on, in my head it was, 'Cubs, Cubs, Cubs,' and that's how everything came through," Fujikawa said.
The right-hander, who totaled 220 saves in 12 seasons with Hanshin, will be used to set up closer Carlos Marmol, not take his place.
"Our goal is to have the best bullpen possible," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Kyuji certainly adds to that. He's had a great career. If you look at his career, he was a dominant setup guy first and a dominant closer. We know he can do both roles. We look at it as adding a great arm, and we don't worry about the role."
Fujikawa wasn't too concerned when he would be pitching.
"Whatever it takes, I have to get three outs or four outs, depending on the situation," he said, using his agent Don Nomura as interpreter. "That was my goal as a closer. My mindset was to get outs, even if I have to fill up the bases, my mentality was to get three outs to close the game."
Marmol is entering the final year of his contract, which will pay him $9.8 million in 2013. Last month, the Cubs were close to completing a deal with the Angels which would've sent Marmol to Anaheim for starter Dan Haren. The Cubs pulled that trade off the table because of concerns over Haren's medical reports.
Marmol, 30, converted 20 of 23 save opportunities last season, posting a 1.52 ERA in the second half. His control can be an issue, and once the Cubs convinced him not to rely solely on his slider, he was more effective. Hoyer and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, both talked to Marmol's agent, Paul Kinzer, during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., about the right-hander's role.
"Carlos is closing," Epstein said. "He did a good job. He earned his position as a closer for 2013 by virtue of a strong second half last year.
"We were short last year in the bullpen. Rather than add a high quantity of 'buy-low' guys and hope some quality emerges, we were in a position to have one or two quality bullpen pieces, because we have some interesting arms to fill out the rest of the 'pen."
Epstein said Fujikawa did not demand to be the Cubs' closer.
"[He wanted] a chance to have a meaningful role and do his job," Epstein said. "That's all he said. He said, 'My job is not closer or setup guy, my job is to help the team win and do what the manager asks of me,' and that's the only time it came up in the discussion."
Fujikawa pitched for Japan in the 2006 and '09 World Baseball Classic as well as the '08 Beijing Olympics. He will not pitch in the 2013 Classic because the Cubs want him to get familiar with their staff and the team. Fujikawa said he knows enough English to be able to communicate with his teammates.
He will be the second Japanese player in Cubs history, following Kosuke Fukudome, who played with the team from 2008-11. Fujikawa was motivated to come to the U.S. after watching other Japanese players such as Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka make the transition. Plus, the right-hander felt he would face better quality hitters in the U.S. Major Leagues.
There's also a reason he picked No. 11.
"I was No. 22 with the Hanshin Tigers," Fujikawa said, "but to have a better career than No. 22, I went younger with No. 11. I asked for 11, and it was luckily open."
He may want to feel young, but the Cubs are hoping Fujikawa can stabilize the young bullpen. They also really like his stuff.
"The biggest thing was his ability to pitch with his fastball," Hoyer said. "He's not a guy who tricks you, he comes right after guys. ... Guys who rely too much on trickery can be guys who the league figures out quickly. Our hope is that, because he pitches with his fastball, he can pitch to a game plan and establish himself and have a nice run."
It should be a smooth transition, especially since Wrigley feels so much like his Japanese home ballpark.
"He likes the history," Hoyer said. "He said right away it reminded him of where he played in Japan. ... You could tell when he was on the field that something struck a chord with him and he wanted to play here."
"Koshien Stadium is known to be the start of baseball in Japan," Fujikawa said, "so that was one of the deciding factors for me to sign with the Chicago Cubs."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.