Cubs still waiting on Fukudome to put it all together

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Cubs still waiting on Fukudome to put it all together

Friday, Feb. 18, 2011Posted: 8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Kosuke Fukudome is the still figure on the Sports Illustrated cover. With the bat raised high above his head, his chin touches his right shoulder and his eyes stare into the distance.

Japanese characters run across the page in big print, with an asterisk: Its Gonna Happen: Kosuke Fukudome Can End the Cubs 100-Year Wait.

This is the picture of calm before a helicopter swing. By the time the May 5, 2008 issue hit the newsstands, everyone had bought into the hype of an outfielder imported for 48 million.

But perceptions change and the Cubs and their fans are no longer imagining the possibilities. It happens everywhere. Five months earlier, the same magazine had put Brett Favre on the cover in a Green Bay Packers uniform, as its Sportsman of the Year.

The huge pack of international media wasnt following Fukudome on Friday when he reported to Fitch Park. There were just two Japanese reporters waiting in the clubhouse. These are lowered expectations for a player who will rotate with Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin in the outfield.

I dont think about the other guys, he said through an interpreter. I just need to take care of myself.

The Cubs didnt think they would be getting a platoon player and a situational leadoff hitter when they lavished that contract on Fukudome, who turns 34 in April. He hasnt yet produced more than 13 homers or 58 RBI in a season.

Fukudome is said to enjoy living in Chicago and having access to its strong Japanese community. Last fall, he bought a condo overlooking Lake Shore Drive. His four-year deal expires at the end of this season.

I would like to stay, he said, but you never know whats going to happen.

Fukudome has no-trade protection and a 13.5 million salary in 2011 that will make him difficult to move. He does not seem to be thinking about returning to Japan, saying that he will stay in the United States as long as he can play in the majors.

Cubs manager Mike Quade praises Fukudomes work ethic and the outfielder does do things to differentiate himself. Fukudome was an All-Star in 2008, has a .368 career on-base percentage and continues to be a plus defender.

Disappointment or not, I dont know, Quade said. I was thrilled with the way he finished. His first year, with the start he had, I think everybody had illusions of grandeur. Its not that easy over here. I just want to see him build on what he did last year.

Thats more difficult for a streaky hitter like Fukudome, who especially seems to need regular at-bats to get his timing down. Last years .263 average broke down like this month-to-month: .344; .253; .189; .162; .365; .210.

Lou Piniella struggled with dividing time between his outfielders last year and that issue isnt going away. Soriano has an even bigger contract than Fukudome. Byrd is coming off his own All-Star season. Colvin is being sold as one of the new faces of the franchise.

Performance will dictate a lot of that, Quade said. You think you know what you have with your three veterans and an emerging Colvin, but youre never sure. You have to stay flexible. And I think part of what I do is talking to guys and being honest with (them to give) them an idea of what Im thinking daily.

Fukudome appears to know a lot more than he lets on, and has a sneaky sense of humor. He saw a few American reporters hanging around his locker on Friday, next to his translator. Once he was finished getting dressed blue jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt he pretended to duck out the door without a word.

It was a quiet first day at work. They will all come back if he has a strong 2011.

Im definitely not satisfied with where I am, Fukudome said. But the bottom line is Im getting better little by little. I just need to put everything together.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."
 

Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

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Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull sits down with CSN executive producers Ryan McGuffey and Sarah Lauch, the creators of 'Reign Men: The Story Behind Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, which premieres March 27 at 9:30 p.m. on CSN.

McGuffey and Lauch share their experience making the 52-minute documentary as they sifted through hours of sound from the likes of Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and more recapping one of the greatest baseball games ever played.

Plus, hear a sneak peak of 'Reign Men’ as Heyward and Epstein describe their perspective of the Rajai Davis game-tying homer and that brief rain delay that led to Heyward’s epic speech.

Check out the latest Cubs Talk Podcast right here: