Sox Sign Fukudome: Is He an Ideal Fourth Outfielder?

The Chicago White Sox have announced this afternoon the signing of outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a one-year, $1 million deal that includes a club option for the 2013 season.

Fukudome, who turns 35 in April, had his roughest season as a major leaguer last year, posting a -0.2 WAR over 603 plate appearances with the Chicago Cubs and then, following a late-July trade, the Cleveland Indians — although, it should be noted that about one negative win of that comes from defense alone, which is much more subject to variation even over a year-long sample.

The White Sox are likely to deploy an Opening Day outfield of Alejandro De Aza in left field, Alex Rios in center, and Dayan Viciedo in right, meaning Fukudome will serve as fourth outfielder for the team.

Which, here’s a question: what are the criteria for a fourth-outfielder role? And also: how well does Fukudome fulfill those criteria?

Roughly speaking, this is what constitutes the ideal fourth outfielder:

Low Cost
There’s no reason to spend a lot on a bench player. Obviously.

Fukudome’s deal is only for $1 million, and the White Sox retain his rights, in the case that he, for some reason, has a breakout season. That’s palatable.

Average (Or Better) Outfield Defense
A fourth outfielder should be able to cover all three outfield positions. In a perfect scenario, he could serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for a merely average defensive center fielder, with said center fielder moving over to an outfield corner (as DeWayne Wise notably did for Scott Podsednik in Mark Buehrle‘s perfect game, for example).

Unfortunately, Fukudome has always been stretched as a center fielder, and might only be an average in a corner now.

Offense / Handedness
The ideal fourth outfielder, offensively speaking, is probably a batter who crushes left-handed pitching (allowing him to play the weak side of a platoon role) but hits very poorly against right-handers (thus keeping his costs down). Alternatively, a fourth outfielder could feature no platoon split at all (by switch-hitting, for example), allowing him to subsitute for batters of either hand.

In this case, Fukudome is a left-handed batter who has actually been platooned for for much of his career. He is actually a career 100 wRC+ hitter, however. So there’s something there, at least.

This is somewhat anecdotal, of course, but it generally has to be the case that a player will deal well with spending long-ish periods on the bench.

By signing this particular contract, Fukudome is almost certainly aware of his likely role. He doesn’t have a reputation as a malcontent — or, not outside of the Chicago area, he doesn’t. He fulfills this criterion.

Team-Specific Considerations
Of course, there are team-specific elements to consider, as well. Are the other outfielders injury prone? Do they need days off periodically?

In this case, Fukudome is a good fit: both De Aza and Viciedo will be starters for the first time in their career (from Opending Day, at least). It’s difficult to say how they’ll react to their new roles. Fukudome, if nothing else, is a known quantity: were he to replace Viciedo, say, he could at least provide something better than replacement-level production in a corner.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

23 Responses to “Sox Sign Fukudome: Is He an Ideal Fourth Outfielder?”

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  1. Yes. And I can’t emphasize it enough that I think he’s a good fit.

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  2. Baltar says:

    I don’t see why a “fourth outfielder” should possess defensive skills over offensive skills or specifically “crush lefties.”
    Ideally, any bench player should complement the skills of the starters, e.g. defensive vs. offensive, RH vs. LH.
    A good analysis of how Fukodome fits the White Sox in these terms is totally lacking here.

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  3. larry says:

    I’m not sure where this Rios in centerfield keeps coming from – I read it all over the place – but, for those who don’t follow the White Sox (and why would you), De Aza is the one who will play center with Rios in left.

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  4. Jim Lahey says:

    Rios was the starting CF last year. He won’t play LF either – he never has.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      Indeed, he was the starting CF last year. And then his -7 UZR helped him to a -0.7 WAR on the season.

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      He will this year, if you believe what the manager and other folks in the organization have said. De Aza is significantly better defensively in center than Rios and they know it.

      Fukudome’s a fit because 1) the other reserve outfielder (who may get some utility IF work too) is a righty who can play a decent center defensively, 2) the starting corner OFs are both righty, and 3) he’s cheap. He actually gets on base reasonably well, particularly so in comparison to the rest of the Sox, so he could easily be batting leadoff or in the 2-spot on days when they sub him in for Rios or Tank against a tough righty.

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    • AJP says:

      Rios was atrocious last year in CF from misjudging balls to losing some range, he’s nowhere close to being a legitimate CF again. Whereas De Aza in a short period of time exceed defensively in CF. It’s only natural to move Rios over and De Aza to CF.

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  5. ODawg says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Sox means Red Sox, from this seat anyway. The headlines never fit the front page anyway; why cause BoSox fans to briefly fear for Ryan Sweeney’s future with the abbreviation?

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    • Chris K says:

      Welcome to every day in the life of a White (i.e., original) Sox fan. Boston all stole the “Sox” from Chicago. And Chicago stole “Stockings” from a number of other teams, including the Cubs, but who’s keeping track…

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      • ODawg says:

        There’s only one solution – the White Sox revert to being the ‘White Stockings.’

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      • JDanger says:

        It always looks weird to me when people refer to the team from Boston as “the Sox”

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Blame it on Hawk Harrelson, he’s the reason I hate the ChiSox, the reason I will NEVER watch a ChiSox broadcast, and also the reason I hope the ChiSox don’t ever score a run or record an out, because I know I’ll have to listen to that festering pile of shit speak.

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  6. Keystone Heavy says:

    Fukudome? You don’t even KNOW me!

    But seriously, this looks like a mediocre sign by a deadbeat organization to me. Maybe they should have spent that one million on bringing in minor league talent. But no, from 2007-2011 they were last in the league in draft spending and 2nd to last in international spending. Now they have the worst farm system in baseball and a mediocre big league club headlined by such current all-stars(snicker) as A.J Pierzynski, Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Omar Vizquel, Gordon Beckham. And now they don’t even have Buerhle, Santos, or Quentin.

    But have no fear! They just paid good money for a player that is coming off a season in which he put up -.2 WAR in 600 plate appearences!

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      1M could also be a great price to pay someone to kidnap Harrelson. I would say kill but then he’d become some sort of martyr….for horrible commentators I guess. Or maybe pay Hawk himself 1M to quit. ANYTHING FOR GOD’S SAKE

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  7. redbean7 says:

    C’mon, Antonio, tell us what you really think. I don’t care for Hawk but like Stone so much I can watch.

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