Fukudome’s first hurdle: Get consistent playing time
By GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporteremail@example.com February 18, 2011 11:26PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
MESA, Ariz. — On the eve of the Cubs’ first full-squad, full-speed workouts, in walked one of the biggest questions of the upcoming season.
Is Kosuke Fukudome a leadoff hitter, an every-day right fielder, a platoon player, a defensive bench guy, an April-only starter, an All-Star, a payroll drain, an asset, a liability, none of the above or all of the above?
As Fukudome arrived Friday at Fitch Park for his first spring day of what’s sure to be his last year as a Cub, his status was as muddied as anyone’s in camp.
With a $14.5 million salary, he’s the fourth-highest-paid player on the roster in 2011, but by most measures he ranks no higher than fourth among just the outfielders in camp.
A lifetime .335 hitter in April and a .244 hitter when it’s not April, Fukudome arrives back in camp just a few months after the Cubs looked fruitlessly into trading him and most of his remaining contract.
But he also has a manager who likes him as a lefty leadoff option, and he had such an uncharacteristically strong August (.365, 1.117 OPS) that he and many around the Cubs seem to forget his .169 slump after Sept. 1.
‘‘I was thrilled with the way he finished,’’ manager Mike Quade said. ‘‘I just want him to build on what he did for us last year.’’
How well he’ll do that, how much opportunity he’ll get to do that and exactly what role he’ll occupy are in flux as he faces a stiff challenge for playing time from second-year outfielder Tyler Colvin and challenges from Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt for at-bats at the top of the order.
‘’I don’t think about the other guys,’’ Fukudome said through his interpreter Friday. ‘‘I just need to do what I can do. I just need to take care of myself first so I can be a better player. . . . It was nice to finish strong, but I do need to continue doing what I did throughout [this] year.’’
He said he didn’t pay attention to trade rumors last fall, and his decision to buy a condominium on Lake Shore Drive after the season suggested as much.
Fukudome admits it was ‘‘difficult’’ to adjust to inconsistent playing time, even in his third season in the majors.
‘‘But I learned a lesson,’’ he said. ‘‘If it happens this year, then I can deal with it a lot better.’’
But that’s not his plan.
‘‘I’m definitely not satisfied with where I was,’’ he said. ‘‘The bottom line is I’m getting better, little by little. I just need to put everything together.’’
Todd Ricketts, the Cubs’ ownership point man for their new spring-training facility, said the team expects to select an architect for the project by mid-March and break ground in west Mesa in the fall.
‘‘I’d hate to commit to 2013 [spring opening], but 2014 for sure,’’ Ricketts said.
He said naming rights are open for discussion, and plans call for some features of the new spring ballpark to reflect Wrigley Field features.
† The Cubs plan to honor Ron Santo with a pregame ceremony March 10 at HoHoKam Stadium.