CHICAGO – After watching Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki, Kyuji Fujikawa determined he’s ready for the major leagues.
When I was still a student, I saw Nomo made it to the United States, and that was a big factor for me, Fujikawa said through a translator Friday after finalizing a $9.5 million, two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.
Also, Matsuzaka, who is the same age as I am, struggled a little bit, but his challenge really gave me the motivation to come over here, as well as Ichiro challenge to the major leagues, that motivated me to come over.
The 32-year-old right-hander had 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. He played for Japan at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics and the 2008 Olympics.
Facing better-quality hitters was one of my motivations, Fujikawa said.
He joins a team remaking its pitching staff. The Cubs went 61-101 this year.
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, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. We were looking for one or two pieces where we felt good about the investment.
Carlos Marmol, nearly traded to the Los Angeles Angels last month, remains the Cubs’ closer as Fujikawa gets used to pitching for Chicago.
There’s going to be an adjustment, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. We’re crazy to think he’s going to go right into the season and have no issues. Things will come up. We know that’s a part of it.
Fujikawa’s strikeouts per nine innings decreased from 13.5 in 2005 to 11.0 this year, when injuries limited his innings and strikeouts to his lows since 2004.
Fujikawa gets a $1 million signing bonus, and $4 million salaries in each of the next two seasons. The deal includes a $5.5 million option for 2015 with a $500,000 buyout and the price could escalate to $6 million based on games.
Baseball’s average salary increased 3.8 percent this year to a record $3.2 million.
According to final figures released by the Major League Baseball Players Association, the rise was the steepest since 2007. The boost was helped by an increase in the minimum salary from $414,000 to $480,000.
The New York Yankees had the highest average for the 14th consecutive season at $6.88 million, rising after consecutive declines from a peak of $7.66 million when they won the World Series in 2009.
The Los Angeles Dodgers rose from 13th to second at $5.55 million and Texas from 15th to fifth at $4.89 million.
At nearly $685,000, Houston had the lowest average since the 2006 Florida Marlins.
Right-hander Brandon McCarthy reached agreement with Arizona on a $15.5 million, two-year contract, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because McCarthy’s deal was pending a physical.
The physical will be especially important for McCarthy, who was Oakland’s opening day starter last season.
McCarthy was hit in the right side of the head by a line drive off the bat of the Angels’ Erick Aybar on Sept. 5. The 29-year-old pitcher suffered an epidural hemorrhage, brain bruise and skull fracture, then underwent a two-hour surgery.
Arizona completed one-year contracts with free agent Eric Hinske and catcher Wil Nieves.
Hinske, an infielder-outfielder, and the Diamondbacks agreed to their $1.35 million deal Tuesday. Nieves and the team came to terms on an $800,000 contract Wednesday.
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner and the Yankees agreed to a $2.85 million, one-year contract that avoids salary arbitration. Right-hander Dan Haren agreed to a one-year contract with Washington.
Boston obtained right-hander Graham Godfrey from Oakland, completing a trade for right-hander Sandy Rosario. Reliever Randy Choate and St. Louis finalized a $7.5 million, three-year deal.