Fukudome will make formal announcement next week

Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, a hot commodity on baseball's free-agent market, plans to make a formal announcement early next week on whether he will remain in Japan in 2008 or pursue offers to play in the United States, his agent said.

Agent Joe Urbon spoke with general managers from interested Major League Baseball clubs by phone during the winter meetings in Nashville. Urbon passed along the initial club offers Thursday via conference call to Fukudome, who will study the information with his family in Nagoya, Japan, before determining his next move.

The Chicago Cubs and White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies have expressed varying degrees of interest in Fukudome, a .305 career hitter with 192 home runs and a .397 on base percentage in 1,074 games for the Chunichi Dragons.

Although Urbon recently said it's unlikely that Fukudome will remain in Japan, he declined to handicap the odds as the process nears the finish line. He said the decision is strictly in Fukudome's hands.

"He has to decide whether to take the leap and accept the 'challenge,' as he calls it, and play for a major league club," Urbon said. "He has all the information to make a comfortable, educated decision. My feeling is that it will happen by the first part of the week."

Fukudome has a lucrative multiyear offer on the table from the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, who envision him as a potential cornerstone player for years to come. In the meantime, he is trying to accommodate several MLB clubs who are holding off on pursuing other alternatives as they await his decision.

"There are a lot of elements to this," Urbon said. "Whatever Kosuke decides, there's a proper procedure for him to let the clubs in Japan know personally. It's not just something you do by fax.

"I don't blame Club A and Club B over here who want an answer in case they have to move on. Once he decides to come over here -- if that happens -- I think this process will speed up dramatically."

While no one expects Fukudome to receive a deal close to Torii Hunter's five-year, $90 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the market for other prominent outfielders has begun to take shape recently. This week in Nashville, Andruw Jones signed a two-year, $36.2 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jose Guillen reached agreement on a three-year, $36 million deal with Kansas City.

Fukudome, 30, is known for his strong arm and athleticism. He played shortstop as a youth and was primarily a right fielder with Chunichi, but several clubs think he has the ability to make a smooth transition to center field. A talent evaluator for one National League club called him a "poor man's Carlos Beltran."

Fukudome hit .351 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs in 2006 to win the Most Valuable Player award in the Japanese Central League. He appeared in only 81 games in 2007 before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.