By Adam Harris-
(CBS) Former Hanshin Tiger Kyuji Fujikawa pitched 12 seasons from the bullpen of Japan’s Central League and thought it was time for a change.
“Facing better quality hitters was one of my motivations to leave Japan and come over to the United States,” Fujikawa said through a translator today in the Cubs’ Clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs officially introduced their newest asset to the bullpen, signing Fujikawa to a two-year deal reportedly worth $9 million.
“Our goal is to have the best bullpen possible, and you don’t have a good bullpen by having one good pitcher throwing the ninth inning,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “We know [Fujikawa] can [be a set up guy and a closer]. We look at it as adding a great arm, and we are not worried about the role.”
Hoyer reiterated, as he did at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, that Carlos Marmol will remain the closer.
If things get dicey for Marmol, however, Fujikawa was both a set up man and closer in Japan, and last year earned 24 saves with a 1.32 ERA in 48 relief appearances.
“It’s not up to me where I throw, it’s up to the manager and the team,” Fujikawa said through a translator. “My sole goal is to get the outs needed when I’m on the mound. That’s my job and that’s what I’m planning to do.”
Hoyer and Cubs President Theo Epstein liked Fujikawa because of the uniqueness he brings to the bullpen.
“He can really pitch with his fastball,” Hoyer said. “He is not a guy that tricks you, he actually comes right after guys. We liked his style of pitching. A lot of the guys in the States are sinker, slider bullpen type guys. He’s not like that. He forces fastballs and splits. He’s a different look than other bullpen guys of today.”
Fujikawa speaks enough English to communicate with his teammates, but wasn’t comfortable speaking to the press in English today. In fact, there may have been a miscommunication between Fujikawa and his translator when Fujikawa was asked about the possibility of being traded from the Cubs this year if the team struggles.
“It’s up to the team, I don’t care,” Fujikawa said via translator.
Then Fujikawa interrupted. “No, no, I want to thank Theo and Jed for pursuing me so aggressively. I know that the team is very young. I am a veteran and will try to lead the young players as well. I know what the Cubs did last year, but hopefully we can win this year. I would like to be part of the Cubs building process for the future.”
Fujikawa noted that he liked the idea of pitching in Wrigley because of its history and how it reminded him of his ball park in Japan. He will not be living with his family here but looks forward to living in Chicago.