Kyuji Fujikawa: Breaking Down The Chicago Cubs Signing Of The Japanese Reliever

By Randy Holt
Robert Benson-USA TODAY Sports

Reports came down that coveted Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa had narrowed his choices down to the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels in his jump to the MLB this winter.

Over the weekend, Fujikawa reportedly made his choice and the Chicago Cubs, allegedly, won the sweepstakes to sign him. Though it has yet to be confirmed by anyone in the organization, outside of the fact that it’s known that he was being pursued, the only remaining speed bump in the signing is a physical.

Should that all go off without a hitch, the Cubs have an agreement in place with the 32-year-old reliever that looks pretty favorable on their end. It’s not a huge contract, with a base of two years and $9 million, $1 million of that being his signing bonus.

There are plenty of incentives in place, with Fujikawa able to earn up to $6 million and an option that kicks in for 2015 if he finishes a certain amount of games. If he doesn’t reach that amount, then that option becomes a club option and the Cubs could cut him loose if they choose.

It’s certainly a favorable one, and the Cubs look like they took the measures necessary to ensure that they wouldn’t get burned by a guy who is really an unknown quantity. His development will be something to watch, but the Cubs appear to have every intention of keeping him around. This isn’t the same situation we’ve seen with the Cubs the past two winters where they plan to spin him at the deadline.

As far as what the Cubs are actually getting in Fujikawa, that’s not nearly as clear. Scouting reports are mixed on him and the success of Japanese players almost never translates to the bigs, with very few exceptions. As good as Yu Darvish was overall in 2012, he did go through stretches where he struggled a bit.

That could be a different story with a closer who isn’t coming in to work six or seven innings in a game. Fujikawa can easily be effective out of the closer role, assuming he wins that job over whoever his competition may be. But it’d still be hard to imagine him matching some of his numbers in Japan, which included a 1.36 ERA and over 12 strikeouts per nine.

Fujikawa brings a nice fastball to the table. It can touch the mid-90s, perhaps a bit higher and has some decent movement on it. He also has a nasty splitter, judging by what little video we’ve seen of him. He’ll be put under a microscope in spring training as we all attempt to get a better idea of what he actually adds to the equation.

Overall, this looks like a very good move from the Chicago Cubs. It gets them a good arm to the back of an awful bullpen and could end up pushing Carlos Marmol out the door. How Fujikawa will actually perform remains to be seen, but it will at least add some intrigue to an otherwise dull 2013.


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