Cubs

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.

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: