The announced signing of Kyuji Fujikawa was expected soon, though few expected an agreement to be reached as soon as Saturday, and even fewer expected it to be with the Chicago Cubs.
As of Friday night, the Los Angeles Angels were believed to be the firm front-runners in the sweepstakes, which made a lot of sense on the heels of trading closer Jordan Walden to the Atlanta Braves. But the Cubs brass led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer swooped and landed the 32-year-old reliever on a two-year, $9.5 million deal.
The contract also includes a vesting option for 2015 worth either $5.5 million or $6 million based on games finished according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, who was also the first to report the agreement. If the option does not vest, the Cubs can bring him back at $5.5M or buy him out for $500K.
Based on the contract structure, it is believed Fujikawa will immediately take over as the Cubs closer in 2013. Considering the success he had in that role in Japan, that decision is almost a no-brainer. In 2011, Fujikawa collected 24 saves to go along with a 1.32 ERA and 58 strikeouts for the Hashin Tigers. In six seasons overall with Hashin, he earned 202 saves, posted a 1.36 ERA, and amassed a remarkable 510 strikeouts in just 369 2/3 innings.
That's called domination. It's also what the Cubs hope will translate to consistent success in the United States, and maybe finally give them some stability at the back end of their bullpen.
Speaking of which, the door remains open for the Cubs to deal Carlos Marmol. In fact, they already had a deal in place with the Angels that would have landed them Dan Haren back on Nov. 2. That one fell apart, but could be revisited in a different form —Dan Haren is now a free agent — with Los Angeles losing out on their target here.
Then again, with Marmol's $9.8 million price tag likely bringing down the value of his return, the Cubs could elect to hold on for now, give themselves a potentially dynamic 1-2 punch entering 2013, and wait to see how the in-season market plays out. We'll have to wait and see what they ultimately decide to do, but there's no doubt they have some interesting options.