Cubs Looking to Japan for Bullpen Help

Matt PoloniCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2008

According to a Chicago Tribune report, the Chicago Cubs are considering the possibility of inviting two Japanese pitchers to spring training.

Ken Kadokura and Shegeki Noguchi were both released by the Yomiuri Giants following the 2008 season, in which the team lost to the Saitama Seibu Lions in the Japan Series (Japan's World Series equivalent). Both pitchers are veterans in Japan, having spent 13 and 15 years, respectively, in Nippon Professional Baseball.

The reasoning given for signing either of these pitchers is twofold: The Cubs want some experienced pitchers in the bullpen and believe that having another Japanese-speaking player on the team might help Kosuke Fukudome.

Noguchi is a 34-year-old lefty who stands 5'10" tall and weighs 194 pounds. He has only logged decent playing time in one of the past three seasons in Japan, racking up 29.1 innings in 2007. He pitched in only one game in 2006 and he did not see the field in 2008. The Cubs have already given him a tryout.

Kadokura is a 35-year-old righty who stands 6'3" tall and weighs 198 pounds. He throws a fastball, slider, and splitter and is currently garnering more attention from the club.

According to the Chicago Tribune article, the Cubs are considering Kadokura as a possibility to pitch in relief in spring training so that Jeff Samardzija can get some reps as a starter. Kadokura pitched 31.2 innings in 2007 with a 5.97 ERA. In 2008, he pitched 12.2 innings with a 3.55 ERA.

The Cubs' Pacific Rim scout, Steve Wilson, was quoted as saying that he will suggest signing Kadokura as a spring training invitee to Jim Hendry, the Cubs' general manager.

After acquiring Rule Five draft pick David Patton through a trade with the Reds and signing Joey Gathright, the Cubs have two spots left on their 40-man roster.

Though a spring training invite does not count towards the 40-man roster, if either player was signed to a major league contract (in addition to the invite) or made the team out of spring training, they would obviously be added to it.

With the Cubs still looking to sign a left-handed, power-hitting outfielder, I highly doubt that either will get more than an invite from Jim Hendry. Also, considering the age of each player and their lack of recent playing time, I also doubt that either would make the Cubs 25-man roster out of spring training.

It seems to me that the Cubs are simply trying to do something that might help out struggling outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. I do not expect anything to come from the dealings with either player.

However, if Hendry decides to sign either or both players, there is a possibility that more roster spots will open with trades. Jason Marquis is almost certainly on his way out, and with the signing of Gathright, Felix Pie might be following him.

If Hendry ends up trading either or both of them, only receiving minor leaguers in return, it would offset the signing of the Japanese imports. Of course, recent events would lead you to believe that Hendry will most likely not make trades that only bring in prospects.

In that scenario, I am not sure what advantage these players provide over in-house options that would possibly warrant the release of other players on the 40-man roster.

While they may be experienced, these players have not been able to hold on to roster spots in Japan these past few seasons and in the limited opportunities they have had, they have put up unimpressive numbers.

The Cubs are still in the early stages with both players, so any thoughts on their future with the club is still speculation. Until either player shows that they are capable of pitching in Major League Baseball, don't expect either to hang on with the club.