Cubs Scouting East
When the free agent market is weak, it is time to put plan B into action, and apparently during the organizational meetings this week, that is exactly what the Cubs are doing – scouting Japan.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, sources say the Cubs have heavily scouted left-handed hitting corner outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who is expected to file for free agency this month, right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda, who filed for free agency Monday, and left-hander Hitoki Iwase, considered Japan’s top closer.

Fukudome, 30, is known for his sharp eye and consistency. He has hit 192 home runs and has a .305 batting average during nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. Kuroda, 32, whose fastball has been clocked at 95 mph, went 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp. Iwase, who turns 33 on Saturday, has had 40 or more saves in each of his last three seasons with the Dragons, including 43 in 2007. His 46 saves in 2006 broke Kazuhiro Sasaki’s single-season record in Japan.

Sam Fuld, the outfield prospect who got a brief stint with the big club late in the year, is playing out of his mind down in Arizona. Fuld is one of the Cubs six Arizona Fall League representatives this year and currently sports some pretty hefty numbers. Through 11/8, here were his numbers..400 / .495 / .659 with 3 HR, 12 RBI, 9 SB, and 18 R.As of right now, he is clearly ahead of Felix Pie for a starting spot in CF in 2008. Baseball America had this to say about Fuld coming into last year:

“He has the best strike-zone discipline in the system, which led to a 17-game hitting streak and a 33-game on-base streak in 2006. He doesn’t have much pop, but he stings line drives all over the field. He has slightly above-average speed and basestealing savvy. He gets good breaks and plays a solid center field, though his arm is below average.”

Let’s break down the Cubs interest in Fukudome. SI.com reports he has had great success in his career, twice hitting better than .340 for a season (he hit .351 in 2006) and twice leading the Central League in hitting. He has a career on-base percentage of near .400 and a career slugging percentage of better than .500.

It has been said Fukudome is sort of a cross between the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui. Sounds good to me. He is also a very patient hitter. Again, sounds good. He is however, coming off an injury plagued season and of course there is no way to know for sure his talent will translate in America. My major concern is Fukudome is going to want a long-term safety net to get him out of Japan. Is a 30 year old, unproven talent in America worth the gamble?

The Four Letter Word A-Rod
I have avoided writing about all things A-Rod because quite simply, that is all everyone talks about. Also, the figures 10 years and $300 million, really do sicken me. It now seems like Boston has jumped in the mess. I mean would this saga really be complete without Boston in the mix?

As Red Sox fans in Denver chanted Re-Sign Lowell, Don’t sign A-Rod, Boston’s General Manager Theo Epstein met with the man everybody loves to hate, A-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras. Of course Epstein said he was just checking in with Boras because you know, that is what buddies do. Spin it however you want Theo, we know the first item on the agenda in that meeting. And I don’t think Boston fans are liking the idea. Can you see Alex Rod in a Red Sox uniform?

In other A-Rod news, (why does it seem like A-Rod could have a whole blog devoted to him) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Newsday Tuesday that the Yankees would offer arbitration to A-Rod. If A-Rod accepted, he would be contractually bound to the Yankees for 2008, and in line for a significant raise from his 2007 salary of$27 million.

The top contenders in my mind are the Los Angeles Angels and the the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lets not fool ourselves, A-Rod is going to play in a big city market. What better place for off-field endorsements than Los Angeles. Also, guess who happens to have season tickets to both the Angels AND the Dodgers? Yep, you guessed it, Scott Boras. That leads to snarky, weasly sports agent heaven.

The New York Mets have made the rumor mill but I am not feeling it there, they have enough to worry about without adding A-Rod to the mix. The Cubs have been talked about, but that has died down as of late. The long shot in all of this? The Baltimore Orioles. It may seem excessive and out of nature for the Orioles but maybe not. By the way, I feel like I am writing about the Kentucky Derby not baseball. Stay tuned while the A-Rod saga continues.

Base Coaches to Wear Protective Gear
General managers decided Thursday that first and third-base coaches will wear some sort of head protection during games next season, an action taken four months after the coach for the Colorado Rockies minor league team, Mike Coolbaugh was killed when he was struck in the neck by a line drive while standing in the first-base coaches box. I am assuming the protective gear wont cause that much controversy, at least it shouldn’t. If wearing a batting helmet can prevent freak injuries I am all for it. I just wonder if it will affect their ability to see the whole field.

Name that Quote
Barry Bonds did not make the news this week so I found a quote that sounded like something Barry would say. Who said it?

“The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play”

Think late 60s to late 80s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. He played for five different teams and was he was recently featured in The Bronx Is Burning, portrayed by Daniel Sunjata. Yeah, that gave it away.

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