Should Lou Give a Fukudome?

Manager promises disappointing Japanese import second shot at MLB success

Kosuke Fukudome was a fantastic signing ... for about six weeks.

In that time, he exhibited all the qualities most people thought would make him a great addition to the Cubs. He was sharp in the batter's box. He took walks and got on base. He hit to all fields. He added speed, a left-handed bat, and he played a very solid right field. He was, for six weeks, a great signing.

Then, as all Cubs fans know, things went horribly wrong. Fukudome completely lost his swing -- he started doing this weird thing where he turned his head way too early -- and was rendered horribly ineffective for the rest of the year. His speed and glovework were still good, but his lack of offense made him a huge liability. To be frank, he stunk. We assume he would be the first to agree.

After the Cubs signed Milton Bradley to play right field, the question now is what will happen to Fukudome? Will he rebound in a new platoon role? Will he be able to prove last year's second half was a fluke, and not the real Kosuke Fukudome? It appears we're going to find out, as manager Lou Piniella -- who benched Fukudome in September of 2008 -- will give him plenty of opportunities in 2009.

"He looks wonderful, in really good shape," Piniella said. "I told him we're holding a spot for him. I'm going to put him out in center field, and I'm going to try him in the No. 2 hole in the lineup."

This is a smart move. First of all, if you're in to the whole headgame thing, the worst thing to do for most players when they're playing poorly is to chip at their ego. Fukudome will likely benefit from Piniella's confidence in him; at the very least, it can't hurt.

Second, and more importantly, the Cubs have sunk $44 million into Fukudome over four years. His contract makes him impossible to trade. Why wouldn't you give him a month or two (or maybe more, if it doesn't hurt the team) to try and figure things out? Fukudome isn't a prospect. He doesn't deserve the same amount of time. He needs to produce now. But he also deserves the opportunity to make that happen, and benching him, or limiting him in too many other ways, would be an organizational mistake as well as a managerial one.

So, yeah, Fukudome was awful last year. To most Cubs fans, he is awful. He has until June to prove otherwise.

Eamonn Brennan is a writer, editor and blogger that thinks the Veteran Committee would give 65% approval to filet mignon. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.


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