Cubs waiting to put Fujikawa in the ninth-inning spotlight

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Cubs waiting to put Fujikawa in the ninth-inning spotlight

Kyuji Fujikawa finished lunch with Cubs officials and began touring Wrigley Field. The sense of history reminded him of Koshien Stadium, which also made ivy part of its design and became known as a kind of birthplace for baseball in his country.

This was just before Thanksgiving, and after 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, Fujikawa believed he was ready for a new challenge and wanted to test himself against the best hitters in the world.

As a teenager, Fujikawa watched Hideo Nomo become a star with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He saw Daisuke Matsuzaka whos the same age (32) flame out with the Boston Red Sox. That motivated him to prove he could pitch in the United States.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer made an aggressive pitch, and they found Fujikawa to be an interesting guy, someone whos curious and asks good questions.

They could sell a cosmopolitan city. Remember that even if it didnt work out here for Kosuke Fukudome, the ex-Cub still appreciated Chicagos strong Japanese community, so much that he once bought a condo on Lake Shore Drive.

All those factors brought Fujikawa back to Wrigley Field on Friday, holding up a pinstriped No. 11 jersey with Hoyer as flashbulbs popped inside the clubhouse.

From that day on in my head, it was: Cubs, Cubs, Cubs, Fujikawa said.

Don Nomura, Fujikawas agent in Japan, served as the interpreter in front of at least 10 television cameras. Arn Tellem, his American representative, stood off to the side next to Epstein. Fujikawa speaks enough broken English to be able to communicate with his teammates, but he didnt want to make a mistake during his press conference.

Fujikawa said all the right things, that he will follow orders from the manager, that it doesnt matter when he pitches. Hes been described as a good guy, someone who will get along and wont have a huge entourage (other than the translator and trainer the Cubs plan to hire). He just wants to get outs.

The Cubs already have a closer in Carlos Marmol, and they met with his agent, Paul Kinzer, this week at the Opryland Hotel during the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Epstein, Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum have repeatedly said: Marmol is our closer.

Obviously, that could change at some point during the final year of Marmols contract. But right now the plan is for Marmol to earn his 9.8 million in the ninth inning.

The Cubs would like Fujikawa to get acclimated to a new team and a new country by working as a setup guy and not pitching in the World Baseball Classic, like he did in 2006 and 2009, helping Japan win the title each time.

Even if Fujikawa isnt the closer on Opening Day 2013, the opportunity figures to be there over the life of his two-year, 9.5 million contract, which contains a vestingclub option for 2015. For what its worth, per club policy, he didnt get a no-trade clause.

The primary goal (is) to have him here as part of the solution, Epstein said. Were a big believer in his talent, as well as his character, so we think hell be a positive influence on our younger pitchers and hell be a real stabilizer for our bullpen. Were not signing him at all with the intent to trade him. Obviously, well see what happens. Hopefully, the team performs well and hes pitching very important games for us.

It cost Epstein, Hoyer and the rest of Bostons front office more than 100 million to import Matsuzaka, who helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series but otherwise turned out to be a bust.

This clearly is a low-risk investment. Hoyer mentioned Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima, who gave up a home run to the first batter he faced on Opening Day 2007, didnt allow another run until May 22 and went to the All-Star Game that summer.

Fujikawa notched 220 saves in the Central League, with 914 strikeouts against only 207 walks. If his career 0.96 WHIP translates, it should make for some smoother late innings, and it wasnt hard to draw the contrast with Marmol.

Hes been known in Japan as a guy that can really pitch with his fastball, Hoyer said. Hes not a guy that tricks you. He comes right after guys and thats really important. Guys that rely too much on trickery can often be guys the league figures out quickly.

Our hope (is) that hell be able to pitch to a game plan and be able to establish himself and have a nice run.

A black suit, white dress shirt and a royal blue tie plus a new Cubs hat and jersey covered Fujikawas 6-foot, 190-pound frame as he posed for photos outside the dugout. He didnt seem to mind playing along with the cameras.

Wrigley Field felt cold, gray and empty. Even with all that experience, the Cubs arent looking to throw Fujikawa into the heat of the ninth inning right away.

I know that the team is very young, he said. I will try to lead the young players and compete to win for the Cubs. I know what they did last season, but hopefully we can do better next year. I would like to be part of the building process for the Cubs future.

SportsTalk Live: David DeJesus discusses time spent with Joe Maddon, World Series criticism

SportsTalk Live: David DeJesus discusses time spent with Joe Maddon, World Series criticism

"Be sexy."

That was one of two rules manager Joe Maddon told David DeJesus when the Tampa Bay Rays acquired him in 2013.

DeJesus appeared on SportsTalk Live on Wednesday to discuss his time spent with Maddon in Tampa Bay.

"Just be yourself out there," DeJesus said of Maddon when the Rays traded for him. "I want you to have fun and I want you to just have that ora of 'just don't worry, just go out there and play.' It kept the whole team loose."

DeJesus also shared his thoughts on Maddon's questionable managerial decisions in the World Series.

Hear that, and more, in the video above.

Between Cubs' victory lap and Hall of Fame vote, Sammy Sosa barely staying in the picture

Between Cubs' victory lap and Hall of Fame vote, Sammy Sosa barely staying in the picture

Sammy Sosa has stayed so far off the radar that his long-running absence from Cubs Convention didn't even come up during last weekend's Q&A session with ownership.

And the Cubs can't go viral all the time and dominate every offseason news cycle, with the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealing the election results on Wednesday and welcoming Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez as part of its 2017 class.

But it's become out of sight, out of mind for Sosa, who barely crossed the 5-percent threshold (8.6) needed to remain on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for another year.

Sosa — a seven-time All Star, 1998 National League MVP and the franchise's all-time leader with 545 home runs (and 609 overall) — hadn't gained any traction at all during his first four years under BBWAA consideration, hovering between 12.5 and 6.6 percent.

It's complicated with Sosa, a diva personality who experienced a dramatic late-career renaissance and got named in a New York Times report that exposed him as one of the players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003 (during what was supposed to be an anonymous survey).

The Cubs have undergone a complete makeover since Sosa walked out in 2004, leaving him without many allies in the organization. It's nothing personal, but in the past the Ricketts family has hinted that Sosa could mend certain fences and fill in some of the blanks he once left open during an unconvincing performance in front of Congress.

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The Cubs brought Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg to meet President Barack Obama during their Martin Luther King Jr. Day visit to the White House and keep adding former players to the front office. It's awkward after a World Series run where so many alumni showed up to do TV work, throw first pitches, spray champagne or simply watch a rare playoff game at Wrigley Field.

— If Sosa's looking for a roadmap, Manny Ramirez did his penance and cooperated with Major League Baseball to the point where Cubs president Theo Epstein shockingly hired him as a Triple-A Iowa player/coach in the middle of the 2014 season, something that would have been unthinkable during their clashes with the Boston Red Sox.

As a hitting consultant, Ramirez took a come-and-go-as-you-please arrangement, becoming a national story during the 2015 playoffs but largely staying away from the 2016 championship team, perhaps gearing up for his independent-ball comeback in Japan this year. Even after failing multiple drug tests, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of his generation still finished at 23.8 percent in his first year on the BBWAA ballot.

— Lee Smith (34.2 percent) — a drafted-and-developed Cub and the franchise's all-time leader with 180 saves — didn't come close in his 15th and final time on the BBWAA ballot. Smith had been grandfathered when the Hall of Fame narrowed the eligibility window to 10 years, possibly trying to squeeze Steroid Era symbols like Roger Clemens (54.1 percent) and Barry Bonds (53.8 percent).

— This will make Cub fans feel old: Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are Hall of Fame-eligible for the first time in 2018, when based off this year's returns Trevor Hoffman (74) and Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) should be building momentum toward the 75 percent needed for induction into Cooperstown.