02/14/12 7:08 PM EST
Valentine's Day gift: White Sox sign Fukudome
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Four years later the White Sox have added Fukudome to their team, but at a far different cost and for a far different role.
"[It was] a little different scenario four years ago than it is today, obviously," said assistant general manager Rick Hahn during a Tuesday evening conference call to discuss the addition.
"At this point we are looking for him to add to our outfield depth, and he provides another left-handed bat based on matchups for [manager] Robin [Ventura] going forward," said Hahn of Fukudome, who has a .262 career mark against right-handed pitchers and 36 home runs. "There are a number of quality righties in our division, so we felt a little unbalanced going into the season. He has a track record of performing well against righties and giving quality at-bats vs. tough righties."
The agreement is for a one-year, $1 million contract. Fukudome will earn $500,000 in 2012; the White Sox hold a $3.5 million option for 2013 with a $500,000 buyout.
Back when Fukudome came to the U.S. from Japan, the White Sox reportedly made a higher offer for his services than the four-year, $48 million deal thrown out by their counterparts on the North Side, where Fukudome eventually landed. Fukudome ultimately chose the Cubs because he wanted to be the first Japanese player for a particular franchise, an honor already belonging to Shingo Takatsu with the White Sox.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa also gave Fukudome a strong recommendation for then-Cubs manager Lou Piniella from their days together in Seattle. Fukudome had a desire to stay in right field, and the White Sox had him targeted for center.
But even when Fukudome struggled with the Cubs, general manager Ken Williams talked about the high level of talent possessed by the 34-year-old outfielder. Now, in his soon-to-be super-sub role he'll share with Brent Lillibridge, Fukudome will see time in center, right and, possibly, in left.
"We'll cross that bridge in [Spring Training] and give him an opportunity," said Hahn, who mentioned that the White Sox already have players who can man all three outfield spots in Alejandro De Aza and Lillibridge. "Fukudome has a history of playing right field and center field, but we'll wait to see how things shake out."
Fukudome combined to hit .262 with 27 doubles, eight home runs, 35 RBIs and 59 runs scored in 146 games between the Cubs and Indians last season. He was traded by the Cubs to the Indians on July 28 in exchange for outfielder Abner Abreu and pitcher Carlton Smith, and made a memorable impact against the White Sox when his one-out, second-inning line drive struck Philip Humber just above the right eye during Cleveland's 4-2 victory at U.S. Cellular Field. Humber escaped with a bruise and returned to the mound on Sept. 5.
As a rookie in 2008, the six-foot, 200-pounder was selected as the starting right fielder for the National League at the All-Star Game, held at Yankee Stadium. He hit .257 with 25 doubles, 10 home runs, 58 RBIs and 79 runs scored over 150 games that season.
The left-handed hitter, who will wear No. 1 and increase the 40-man roster to 37, is a lifetime .260 hitter with 42 home runs, 191 RBIs, 262 runs scored and 299 walks in 572 games with the Cubs and Indians. He also played nine seasons with Chunichi of the Japanese Central League from 1999 to 2007.
This addition figures to leave the utility infield spot as the lone position player battle to be decided between Ozzie Martinez and Eduardo Escobar, although the White Sox could opt for non-roster invitee Dan Johnson as a backup first baseman and use Lillibridge as the primary utility infielder. It's a discussion Hahn said has taken place frequently in the front office, but the decision probably won't be made until the end of Spring Training.
If De Aza or Alex Rios struggle, Fukudome could move into a starting role. Fukudome is also capable of giving Dayan Viciedo an occasional break against tough right-handers.
Fukudome's defense is solid, something missing in the 2011 outfield, and he brings with him a .361 career on-base percentage. He also becomes the lone Major League addition made by the White Sox during this modified rebuild of the past offseason.
"Our goal for him is to be the player he has proven to be over the last four years," Hahn said. "Give us quality at-bats vs. righties, play some defense and get on base."