Kosuke Fukudome's swing looks prettier in photos than on video.
The Kosuke Fukudome signing makes so much sense that it's barely worth talking about. So watch me blaze through 10,000 words! In your face, obvious need-addressing transaction!
The Sox had an opening for a left-handed fourth-to-fifth outfielder with some major-league cred on the cheap, and in comes Fukudome, who will be making $1 million ($500,000 salary for 2012, $500,000 buyout on a $3.5 million club option for 2013). He's good enough to start for the duration of a typical DL stint, which is really the biggest concern for a team that will start unproven entities from left to right.
So it should work out. But if it doesn't, there's no overwhelming commitment to a $1 million may-as-well player. After all, $1 million is what the Sox paid Ben Davis after outrighting him to Charlotte before the 2005 season. Shrugging away $1 million can't stop a champion.
During the conference call for the signing, Rick Hahn summed up the move by saying it "gives us some more options, some depth, guy who can get on base and play some quality defense for us."
I'm with him 75 percent of the way.
Options and depth: Yup and yup. The White Sox now have two left-handed options with three righties, and they can be mixed and matched to cover all three positions in the event that some right-handed-hitter serial killer like Justin Masterson or Jered Weaver is on the mound. Adam Dunn was supposed to provide that left-handed ballast in the middle of the order. That didn't happen, so the Sox have to piece together options elsewhere.
Get on base: Yup. He has a .361 career OBP, although it's severely front-loaded (.454 OBP in April, .371 in the first half, .348 in the second). That's fine, because given the way the Sox have started each of the last three seasons, they could use a Mr. April far more than most teams.
Quality defense: Maaaaaaaaybe not. I enjoyed James' reaction on Twitter:
I just need to get over the two games I saw Fukudome's defense in person, where he oozed triples, and I'll be fine— James Fegan (@JRFegan) February 14, 2012
Nope no no. Can think of few players I wanted less. Awful defender. Awful. Awful. Awful.— James Fegan (@JRFegan) February 14, 2012
James has a point. The White Sox hit four of their 16 triples in Fukudome's direction last year, which is kind of absurd when you think about the probability. But Juan Pierre hit one of them into Wrigley's right field corner, and Alex Rios split right-center when Fukudome was shaded the other way in center during Five Triples Night in August. Ninety-nine times out of 100, playing Rios to pull is sound baseball strategy.
That leaves these two -- another one on Five Triples Night...
...and this other one on June 22, which gave A.J. Pierzynski his first triple since 2009:
Moving beyond small observational samples, the metrics aren't kind on the whole. UZR, Plus-Minus and have him declining into solidly negative territory over the last two seasons, while Fan Scouting Report numbers have also slid, but remain a positive. That splits the difference with the other two metrics, because FRAA and Baseball-Reference.com think he's getting the job done. The very mixed reviews are a surprising development, because his defense was held in high esteem when he came over from Japan. But hey, he's going to turn 35 in April, so maybe Father Time is pummeling that part of his game. We've seen that happen before.
If I had to guess, I'd say "quality" isn't the word that will end up describing his defense. Although I'd also wager that we'll have seen worse displays by his predecessors when all is said and done.
Hahn also offered some thoughts on a couple other positions Fukudome's presence may affect. Having a real fourth outfielder could allow Brent Lillibridge to see more time in the infield -- contingent upon Ventura wanting him there, and Lillibridge playing well enough to merit consideration. His last attempts were pretty shaky, as I recall. Ozzie Guillen eventually pulled him from that mix, and it was justified.
Still, given that Ozzie Martinez or Eduardo Escobar will likely be the true utility infielder, it would be nice if Ventura offered Lillibridge an extended audition, in the event of a godforsaken emergency.
Conversely, it sounds like Dayan Viciedo will not be shuffled around, as Hahn said the Sox "likely view him as strictly a right fielder."
Nobody asked about Jordan Danks, but this move clearly has the biggest impact on him over any other player in the organization. Without Fukudome, the state of the White Sox roster allowed Danks the possibility of playing his way on during spring training. Instead, it looks like Danks will start a third straight season in Charlotte barring an injury. That's a positive development for all non-Dankses, because he has to resume hitting in Triple-A after his ability to make contact vanished over the final month of last season.
This move reminds me of the Darin Erstad signing, which is a comparison I'm sure excites precisely no one. Both cases are examples of Kenny Williams getting his guy. In Erstad's case, Williams signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal five years after the Angels nixed a trade for Jon Garland and Chris Singleton in December of 2001, and thank goodness they did.
Likewise, Williams didn't really miss out on Fukudome the first time. The White Sox supposedly outbid the Cubs on their four-year offers ($50 million to $48 million) when he hit free agency before the 2008 season. Nevertheless, it was said Fukudome had reasons for picking the North Side -- he wanted to play right over center, he wanted to be the Cubs' first Japanese player, etc.
I can't exactly crow about it though, because I was on the Fukudome bandwagon at the time. I had my reasons -- if he hit for the Sox like he did for the Cubs (.262/.369/.403) while playing a top-notch center field, that would have been a terrific fit. But he probably wouldn't have met the requirements for the latter ... and probably the former, too, given the way center field at The Cell swallows careers.
Anyway, Erstad would have been a good bench fit, but because it was 2007, things like the Erstad-Podsednik-Owens outfield actually happened instead. Likewise, Fukudome should be more than fine, provided the primary outfield options hold up their ends of the bargain and the Sox don't need Fukudome to thump like a typical right fielder six days a week.
Given the different roles and salaries Fukudome will take and make with the White Sox, there's no reason for the ex-Cub resentment I've seen elsewhere. And given that Fukudome is the third Japanese player in White Sox history, it would be nice if the tired jokes disappear and everybody acts like we've been here before.