Cubs hoping Kyuji Fujikawa is ‘part of the solution’
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org December 7, 2012 11:22PM
Kyuji Fujikawa agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal last week. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: January 9, 2013 6:10AM
If this plays out the way team president Theo Epstein and Kyuji Fujikawa suggested Friday, the Japanese reliever would be the first professional free agent to be part of the Cubs’ turnaround.
‘‘The primary goal is to have him here as part of the solution,’’ Epstein said as Fujikawa was introduced to the media almost a week after agreeing to a two-year, $9.5 million contract that includes a third-year option.
‘‘We’re a big believer in his talent as well as his character, so we think he’ll be a positive influence on our younger pitchers and he’ll be a real stabilizer for our bullpen.
‘‘We’re not signing him at all with the intent to trade him. Obviously, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, the team performs well, and he’ll be pitching very important games for us.’’
That’s no guarantee the premier closer in Japan in recent years won’t be flipped at the trade deadline for prospects if the Cubs get off to a poor start and his trade value is high. He doesn’t have no-trade rights.
‘‘That’s up to the team. I don’t care,’’ Fujikawa said through an interpreter.
Sources said he’s well aware of that possibility and it does matter to him. But talks leading up to his signing were centered more on what he could do for the team during the entirety of his contract.
Fujikawa, 32, said the front office’s ‘‘warm-hearted’’ pursuit was one of the reasons he signed. He envisions playing a leadership role on a young team.
‘‘I know what they did last year, but hopefully we can do better next year,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d like to be part of the building process for the Cubs’ future.’’
Carlos Marmol has been assured the closer role is still his entering the season, but he also has been told to expect the Cubs to trade him before the July 31 deadline.
Fujikawa’s command, fastball-first approach and durability played big roles in the Cubs’ interest. He shrugged off the importance of getting a shot to close, but insiders said that was significant during the free-agency process. Fujikawa was very close to signing with the Los Angeles Angels before they agreed to terms with closer Ryan Madson on Nov. 27. Epstein said closing wasn’t a big part of talks with the Cubs.
‘‘In our discussions with him, it was the chance to have a meaningful role and do his job,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘That’s all he said: ‘My job is not closer or setup guy; my job is to help the team and do what the manager asks of me.’ And that’s the only time it came up in the whole discussion.’’
On Nov. 15, Fujikawa met with Cubs brass and toured Wrigley Field, which he compared to his 88-year-old home stadium in Japan.
‘‘From that day on it was Cubs, Cubs, Cubs,’’ he said.
NOTES: The Cubs were one of at least three teams still awaiting a decision from veteran reliever Jason Grilli, though they didn’t view the delay as any reason to raise their lukewarm hopes of landing him.
◆ Right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who agreed to a one-year, $2.25 million deal this week, still hasn’t completed the physical that will make the deal official.