Rangers sign Japanese reliever Fujikawa
Fujikawa was a standout reliever in Japan before spending the last two seasons with the Cubs. His time in Chicago was limited because of Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow.
"My arm feels a lot better than it was before having surgery," Fujikawa said through an interpreter during a conference call. "I'm very confident that I can continue being successful as I was in Japan."
The deal in Texas, completed after Fujikawa passed a physical, includes a $1 million salary for next season plus performance-based incentives. There is a $100,000 buyout if the Rangers decide not to exercise the 2016 option.
The Rangers also Tuesday signed first baseman Kyle Blanks and Tommy Field to minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training. Left-hander Scott Barnes and right-hander Ben Rowen were designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Fujikawa and right-hander Colby Lewis, whose $4 million, one-year contract announced earlier this month became official Tuesday.
The Rangers made a bid for Fujikawa two years ago when he decided to come to the United States. They had seen him while scouting Yu Darvish before the ace starter signed with Texas three years ago.
"A player that we had scouted quite extensively over the years in Japan, and then some degree here the last couple of years," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He got hurt, but he returned last year and we feel he's a really good fit for our bullpen. ... A veteran piece to an otherwise relatively young bullpen."
Before joining the Cubs, Fujikawa spent 12 seasons (2000, 2002-12) with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball Central League. The 34-year-old right-hander had a record of 42-25 with 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA in 562 appearances, while opponents hit only .175 against him over his final nine seasons in Japan (2004-12).
Fujikawa made just 12 appearances for the Cubs in 2013 before surgery that June. He was out 14 months, but made 15 appearances after his return last August. He had a 5.04 ERA in those 27 games, but struck out 31 with only eight walks in 25 innings.
"I got hurt and it was a big injury, so I was not able to contribute," he said. "As long as I'm healthy, I believe and I am confident that I'm able to continue the success I had in Japan."
Daniels said Fujikawa's relationship with Darvish was a secondary benefit, but not the reason the Rangers signed the reliever.
"Obviously, Darvish is the ace of the staff and he's a well-respected baseball player," Fujikawa said. "But my priority was to play where I was needed and where I could fit the club most efficiently. I had a desire to play with him, but that was not the primary reason why I joined the Rangers."
Blanks hit .309 with two homers and seven RBIs in 26 games combined last season for San Diego and Oakland.
Field, a Texas native who was born in Austin and went to high school in Waco, spent last season in Triple-A. He hit .286 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 90 games while splitting time in the Los Angeles Angles' and Pittsburgh Pirates' organizations.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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