They Come And They Go
The Chicago Cubs signed Japanese relief ace Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year deal for $9.5 million with various options for third and fourth seasons. I think it’s a great move for the Cubs.
Fujikawa’s numbers as a top closer in Japan are eye-popping, including a career (692.1 IP) 1.77 ERA, 11.9 Ks per nine innings and a K-to-BBs ratio of 4.4. He’s going to have a big advantage his first year or two in MLB since major league hitters haven’t seen him pitch before.
The only knock on Fujikawa is that he turns 33 next summer, but I don’t see it as that much of a big deal, given the way Fujikawa has pitched the last two seasons and the fact that the contract only guarantees two years.
Fujikawa actually won’t make as much money at an annual rate as he made for the Hanshin Tigers in 2012. Last year Hanshin reportedly paid him 400 million yen, which at present exchange rates comes to roughly $4.85 million, which is a little more than the $4.75 per year guaranteed by the Cubs.
Obviously, the advantage to signing with the Cubs is a two-year deal, although I imagine that Fujikawa could have received a two year deal from the Hanshin Tigers for the same money, if he wanted to remain in Japan, given that he was a true free agent this off-season. What Fujikawa is really hoping is that he’ll become a major league star and then get the kind of contract he couldn’t get in Japan, since he’s already near the maximum amount a Japanese team would pay him.
It’s a good sign that Fujikawa is willing to come to the U.S. for roughly the same money as he could presently make in Japan. It shows his desire to test himself against the best leagues going and his confidence that he can be successful in the U.S.
Meanwhile the Chunichi Dragons signed former Oriole and Diamondback Brad Bergesen to a one-year deal for $900,000 (including signing bonus) and additional performance bonuses.
Bergeson has pitched in the majors in each of the last four seasons and has not pitched badly, going 19-25 with a career 4.61 ERA, mostly as a starter.
However, while he clearly knows how to pitch, Bergesen’s career numbers suggest his stuff is not major league caliber. In 424 career MLB innings pitched, Bergesen has allowed 467 hits, 55 HRS and 122 walks, while striking out only 225 batters. As a result, his career run average (5.16) is considerably higher than his career ERA.
Bergesen will still be only 27 years old in 2013, and the fact that the Diamondbacks were willing to give him his release to play in Japan (and possibly receive a relatively modest sale price from the Chunichi Dragons) suggests that the D-Backs don’t see Bergesen having much of a major league future.
While we will, of course, have to wait and see how Bergesen adjusts to NPB baseball, his major league numbers to date are considerably better than Seth Greisinger’s, a pitcher who has had a great deal of success in NPB four of the last six seasons (Greisinger was hurt in 2010 and 2011). Given his relatively tender age, if Bergesen can establish a reputation as a successful NPB pitcher in 2013, he could have a long and lucrative career in Japan.
However, I don’t see Bergesen becoming the next Colby Lewis, and one day returning to MLB in glory, because Bergesen’s stuff simply isn’t as good.