After watching Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki, Japan’s Kyuji Fujikawa determined he is ready for the major leagues.
“When I was still a student, I saw Nomo made it to the United States, and that was a big factor for me,” Fujikawa said through a translator on Friday after finalizing a US$9.5 million, two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.
“Also, Matsuzaka, who is the same age as I am, struggled a little bit, but his challenge really gave me the motivation to come over here, as well as Ichiro’s challenge to the major leagues, that motivated me to come over,” Fujikawa added.
The 32-year-old right-hander had 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. He played for Japan at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, and the 2008 Olympics.
“Facing better-quality hitters was one of my motivations,” Fujikawa said.
He joins a team remaking its pitching staff. Without a World Series title since 1908, the Cubs went 61-101 this year for their first 100-loss season since 1966.
“Rather than add a high quantity of buy-low guys and hope some quality emerged, we felt like we were in a position where we could add one or two quality bullpen pieces because we have some interesting arms to fill out the rest of the pen,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “We were looking for one or two pieces where we felt good about the investment.”
Carlos Marmol, nearly traded to the Los Angeles Angels last month, remains the Cubs’ closer as Fujikawa gets used to pitching for Chicago.
“There’s going to be an adjustment,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’re crazy to think he’s going to go right into the season and have no issues. Things will come up. We know that’s a part of it.”
Fujikawa’s strikeouts per nine innings decreased from 13.5 in 2005 to 11.0 this year, when injuries limited his innings and strikeouts to his lowest since 2004.
“He’s not a guy that tricks you. He really comes right after guys,” Hoyer said. “Guys who rely too much on trickery can often be guys that the league figures out quickly. Our hope is that because he pitches with his fastball that he’ll be able to pitch to a game plan.”
Fujikawa is to wear No. 11 with the Cubs.
“I was No. 22 with the Hanshin Tigers, but to have a better career than No. 22, I went younger with two ones,” he said.
Fujikawa gets a US$1 million signing bonus and US$4 million salaries in each of the next two seasons. The deal includes a US$5.5 million option for 2015, with a US$500,000 buyout, and the price could escalate to US$6 million based on games.
Other new additions to Chicago’s staff include Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.
“From Day 1 when I visited here a few weeks ago, I really loved the city,” Fujikawa said. “From that day on, it was Cubs, Cubs, Cubs.”