Chicago Cubs: Kyuji Fujikawa Returns to DL; Is He Officially a Free Agent Bust?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The regular season is just about at the two-month mark. With Kyuji Fujikawa's recent trip to the disabled list, the Chicago Cubs' pitcher is on a crisp pace of one DL stint per month. Even though it is only a couple of months into the season, can Fujikawa officially be considered a free agent bust? His lacking performance (5.25 ERA) and reoccurring injury (right forearm) certainly make a case for him to be, but the short answer is that, no, he is not one. Not yet anyway.

Fujikawa has undeniably been a disappointment thus far in 2013. When a player comes in with a career ERA of 1.77 and 200-plus saves, you expect more than what Fujikawa has delivered. One of the reasons he isn't a bust (yet) is that there is a very real possibility that this forearm injury -- which has been the cause of both DL trips -- has impacted his performance. There is always a chance he has just been getting beat --the transition from Japan to the MLB is often a difficult one -- but if this injury is lingering, it can be a factor.

Another reason that he isn't a bust is, unlike some of the Cubs' signings in the past, the team didn't overpay for Fujikawa, nor did they stick themselves with him for a long time should he continue to struggle. His current salary of $4.5 million per year isn't all that bad and the contract is only for two years -- with a club-option for a third. While no team wants to toss $9 million down the tubes, the Cubs are not handicapping themselves financially in the grand scheme. If Fujikawa does come around once he is healthy, then that's all the better.

When the Cubs signed Fujikawa in the offseason, he was coming off an adductor strain and had not thrown more than 70 innings since 2007. In short, the guy isn't the most durable pitcher you are going to find. Though you never plan on having players get hurt, or even expect them to, Fujikawa continuing his injury-prone ways can hardly be considered surprising to the Chicago Cubs. The lack of surprise doesn't make him less of a bust, but it does put the whole situation into perspective.

At 32, where Fujikawa fits into the Cubs' ultimate plans is a bit of a mystery. The Cubs have two other closers on the roster -- the perpetually struggling Carlos Marmol and the re-emergent Kevin Gregg. With Gregg having secured closing duties for the foreseeable future, Fujikawa could be considered to maintain a setup role upon his return, groomed for an eventual takeover from Gregg (possibly 2014), or shipped off via trade at some point before the deadline (July 31st).

What the Cubs were able to do by getting Fujikawa for a reasonable price was securing an ability to trade Fujikawa for younger talent; he just needs to get (and stay) healthy long enough to show the league what he was able to do in Japan. Even if he isn't able to replicate the results from those years, an experienced closer with a strong history will go a long way for a contender presuming he has an adequate sample size of major-league performance.

For that reason, Kyuji Fujikawa has been a disappointment, not a bust. If the struggles continue and he never finds his footing with Cubs, it will be one. The modest contract, though, will keep it from being a major blunder.

For an organization trying to build big things from the ground up, avoiding major blunders is a must.

Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.

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