CHICAGO – The Cubs’ offseason strategy has, so far, been exactly what the organization needed coming off a 101-loss season.
Ignoring any urges to spend lavishly, the Cubs wisely invested in short-term deals with team-friendly money. They added another cost-efficient piece Friday, officially announcing the signing of Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa. The 32-year-old right hander signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract with a vesting/club option for the 2015.
“You look at the track record of guys that have pitched in the bullpen and come over here, it’s very good,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Obviously, he’s been one of the best relievers in Japan for a long time. We’re optimistic.”
Hoyer and the Cubs have preached the importance of signing free agents who are approaching or still are in their prime, thus avoiding handing out cushy contracts to veterans in the twilight of their careers.
In addition to Fujikawa, the Cubs have also agreed to one-year deals with starting pitchers Scott Feldman, 29, and Scott Baker, 31.
“We’re not always going to be able to stay on the right side of 30, not in free agency,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s not realistic. So few guys make it to free agency in their 20s. The guys that do are the bidding war guys for the most part. It’s a goal. He’s 32, that’s not far past it. But it’s not something you can always achieve.”
While the deals have not yet been announced, the Cubs agreed to terms with third baseman Ian Stewart and outfielder Nate Schierholtz, both of which are one-year contracts.
“We’ll continue to try and add depth,” Hoyer said. “We’re certainly not done. But we certainly feel better about where we are. Looking at the offseason now, we’re not even halfway. We’re really glad we went in right away and added two starters in Baker and Feldman.
“We have the ability to be a little bit more discerning because we added two we wanted right away.”
The flexibility provided by sticking to one- or two-year contracts has drastically lowered the Cubs’ payroll and provides an opportunity to hand out big bucks in a few years if their rebuilding plan pays off. In 2012, the Cubs’ Opening Day payroll was approximately $109 million. If the season began today, the Cubs’ 2013 payroll sits at $65 million, pending arbitration for Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell and Luis Valbuena.
The Cubs’ play-it-safe strategy won’t excite the fan base, but it sets up the organization for big spending when they’re finally ready to compete for the postseason.
“We were short last year in the bullpen,” President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “Rather than add a high quantity of buy-low guys and hope some quality emerged, we felt like we were in a position where we could add one or two quality bullpen pieces because we have some interesting arms to fill out the rest of the pen.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the Cubs and White Sox for Shaw Media.