I don’t know a lick of Japanese, but I’m willing to learn. At 30 years old, Fukudome (pronounced “KOH-skay foo-koo-DOUGH-may”) has been a star in the Japanese leagues since he was a teenager. He was selected as the youngest player ever on an Olympic baseball team, which won a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. A scouting report from ArmChairGM.com says Fukudome has doubles power and will likely put up a high OBP in the Majors, but won’t slug more than 15–20 HRs. He’s a gold-glove caliber right fielder and has a strong arm.
Finally, Cubs GM Jim Hendry is wholeheartedly committing to offense that can get on base. After a disastrous 2006, word around the league was that the Cubs organization put quite a bit of money into their overseas scouting, particularly in Asia. It’s nice to see that paying off. I’m sure there will be adjustments for Fukudome to make, but he is already infinitely better than a Murton/Floyd platoon. Listening to Hendry on Comcast SportsNet last week, he sounded exhausted and excited though elated that the Japanese five-tool chose the Cubs, stating Fukudome “wants the action”, but he admitted the off-season work was likely not done. The relieved GM may (see below) work on a deal for the Orioles’ Brian Roberts and carefully consider more pitching in what looks like a thin market.
The Cubs released Prior after he refused a 1 year + option deal. I’m fine with this and the rest of Cubs nation should be too. Prior never had the work ethic or loyal nature that Wood has displayed. Wood has worked tirelessly to come back not once, but twice, accepting a bullpen role and signing one-year contracts two years in a row, while spurning more lucrative offers from other clubs. Prior is a spoiled California kid who will never have the work ethic to return to what he once was. He doesn’t have the “Texas” in him that’s necessary to do what Wood has done. Prior will likely sign with the Padres so he can be close to home…and closer to his shoulder specialist.
Cardinals / White Sox
The Cardinals let go of the best GM in baseball, Walt Jocketty, because the ownership didn’t like that he couldn’t get along with the scouting director. So far, their best off-season signing has been Caesar Izturis and while I am sure they will do more, you just don’t let a GM who’s led you to the post-season 7 of 13 years, including a World Series Championship just one year ago, simply waltz out the door.
As for the South-siders, they wanted Torii Hunter. Nope, headed to Anaheim. How about Andruw Jones? Nope. Dodgers. Fukudome? Nah. Liked the Cubs more. Ok, they’ll bring back underrated fan-favorite Aaron Rowand! Nope, just inked a 5-year with the Giants. Kenny Williams, what are you waiting for? Sox fans will not accept a 2008 season like 2007 after they tasted real success in 2005. An outfield that includes Brian Anderson and Andy Gonzalez is not going to get it done in the AL Central.
Eastern Sports Programming Network
Now, I love ESPN. They are the NY Times to Fox’s Best Damn Sports Show’s NY Post, but their favoritism for the Red Sox and Yankees is starting to get out of hand. If Fukudome were to sign with Boston or NY, there would have been a 30 minute special on the guy. But since he signed in the Midwest, the most there was resembled a blurb and a once-every-three rotation 10-word on the ticker. I’m still not sure what the ESPN acronym stands for, but a Midwest guy like me would like for them to give us a reason or two not to joke at the water cooler about the Eastern Sports Programming Network.
I’m trying not to care about this. But the fact is that people love this type of stuff. Drama, despair and overpaid athletes. Yes, it’s been obvious for some time now that a percentage of our beloved sackers have been using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Look, lets get one thing straight: baseball has always been associated with different forms of cheating or unbalanced competitive advantage. That’s one of the things us die-hards love about the game. Think about it. Stealing signs, corked bats, pine-tar, sliding-in spikes-up to disrupt a double play. How about sandpaper and spit? Maybe a little vaseline? Pitchers have been doctoring balls up since the game began. Don’t think this isn’t happening today. Take a look at Julian Tavarez.
Now before you think I’m a complete apologist, let me say that steroids/PED’s are a little different. I understand exactly why players were using them to stay ahead, and I can’t condone it. Major League Baseball has every right to install testing and players would be wise to adhere to it. Besides, technology has pretty much taken away most of the old-school scoundrel cheating mentioned above, just ask Kenny Rogers. And you can be sure about this: there will always be new methods for staying competitive and players will always be a step ahead. Remember, HGH (Human Growth Hormone) wasn’t officially banned in baseball until 2005, after most of the players in the Mitchell report had used it. You know why Andy Pettitte told the world he used it in 2002? Because he can simply say it was a mistake and that he wasn’t breaking any rules.
One aspect of the game that this issue is already affecting is the Hot Stove. The first thing I looked for when I checked the list was to see if there were any current Cubs on the now infamous list.
No Cubs. Good.
But Brian Roberts was listed in the Mitchell report and just admitted (as of December 18th, 2008) to taking steroids once, and only once (okay, maybe three times). What should Hendry do? Does he move forward with the plan? Or sacrifice a great player in order keep the team “pure”? More next time…