Cubs not content to wait in Nashville
If Fukudome doesn't sign, club will search for right fielder
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Sunday that the club is actively pursuing a left-handed-hitting outfielder while still waiting for word from Kosuke Fukudome as to whether he wants to play for a Major League team in the U.S.
Hendry said he talked to Fukudome's agent Joe Urbon last week, and hoped to get a decision soon. Fukudome became a free agent last month.
"I think the player will make his final decision on whether he's going to leave the country or not," Hendry said. "I'm hopeful it will be soon. It's certainly an area where he's going to decide on his own terms, which he should. Hopefully, he'll decide to come to the states."
However, the Cubs are not sitting idly while Fukudome makes up his mind.
"I'm sure we'll get something done," Hendry said. "I can't promise we'll leave with a new right fielder."
Fukudome, 30, would be a good fit in the Cubs lineup. He batted .294 for the Chunichi Dragons, and has a career on-base percentage of nearly .400 and a career slugging percentage of better than .500.
The left-handed hitter was named the Central League's Most Valuable Player in 2006 when he hit .351 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs. He was limited to 81 games in 2007 before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
The Cubs have Alfonso Soriano in left field, and Felix Pie most likely will start in center when the 2008 season opens March 31. Hendry was in the Dominican Republic last week to watch Pie, and was happy with the improvements.
"He's made a lot of effort since the season," Hendry said of Pie. "[Cubs hitting coach] Gerald Perry was down there when I was. The kid's an outstanding human being, he's working very hard at his craft, making a lot of adjustments at the plate, shortened his swing, working the count better, and played well. He's playing tremdendous defense, which shouldn't surprise anybody."
Pie was batting .227 with two homers, seven doubles, and 12 RBIs in 28 games for Licey, and Hendry said the stats don't tell the story of how well the young outfielder was doing.
"Let's not forget, down there, that's their season," he said. "It's not like he's in an Instructional League. I think he's blending a positive of changing a lot of things and still doing well enough to help them win games. They're in first place, and his numbers on paper aren't great, but his at-bats are better than his numbers."
An outfielder who seems delegated to the sidelines is Matt Murton, who hit .281 in 94 games. He's a right-handed hitter.
"We still like Murton and think he's an every day big leaguer," Hendry said. "Life would be a lot easier if 'Murt' was left-handed. I think he'll be a good everyday Major League player. Until we have better pieces from the left side, if you go to camp and Murt's in the picture, then he fights for playing time."
The Cubs' deadline to find the right guy isn't the end of the week when the Winter Meetings wrap up. Sometime in the next month, Hendry said he wants someone who can play right field and bat left-handed.
"To predict we're going to try to do this or that -- a lot of things can spin off," he said. "Who knows? We might shuffle the deck like we tried to do with the infield. One deal could set up a couple different pieces. We're just going to try to end up with the best club we can when we get to camp."
Whether the Cubs' roster includes Mark Prior may not be known until Dec. 12, when teams have to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players. Hendry said the Cubs have not made any final decision regarding whether to tender an offer to Prior, who is coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last April.
"I've read a lot of speculation," Hendry said. "It's one of those spots you're in and I think Mark would be the first to recognize it, too. It's the last year of arbitration, free agency is coming in the fall. You have to balance when you think you'll be back, and what you think the first year back production would be, and what kind of future you might have if this year goes well. It's a tough spot."
Hendry said Prior is throwing off flat ground, but added he has not gotten an update from Dr. James Andrews, who did the surgery, and doesn't know when the right-hander will be ready to pitch.
"I know Mark is feeling good about where he's at in his rehab," Hendry said.
The Cubs did announce they have added Bill Harford to the scouting group, and he will handle Major League and Minor League teams.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.