Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Cubs' Fujikawa: long-term asset or July trade bait?

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If this plays out the way Theo Epstein and Kyuji Fujikawa suggested on Friday, then the Japanese reliever Epstein's front office just signed could be the first professional free agent acquisition to actually become part of the turnaround in the Cubs' rebuilding process.

``The primary goal is to have him here as part of the solution,'' team president 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,'' Epstein said, ``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 trading deadline for prospects if the team gets 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 Thursday through an interpreter.

Sources say he's well aware of that possibility and it does matter to him. On the other hand, 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, and that he envisions playing a veteran leadership role on a young team.

``I know what they've done 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.''

Until or unless that happens, he's the heir apparent to closer Carlos Marmol, who has been assured the closer role still belongs to him entering the season - but also been told to expect the Cubs to trade him before the July 31 deadline.

Fujikawa - whose command, fastball-first approach and durability played big roles in the Cubs' interest - shrugged off the importance of getting a shot to close games while the cameras were running Friday.

But insiders say that was significant during the overall free agency process, and he was very close to signing with the Los Angeles Angels instead of the Cubs until the Angels reached terms with closer Ryan Madson Nov. 27 - though Epstein said it wasn't a big part of the Cub talks.

``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.''

Fujikawa met with Cubs brass Nov. 15 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 on which offer he'll accept, though they didn't view the delay as any reason to raise their lukewarm hopes of landing him. ... Right-fielder Nate Schierholtz, who agreed this week to a one-year, $2.25 million deal, still has not completed the physical that will make the deal official.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on December 7, 2012 4:37 PM.

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