Rumor has it that Lou Pinella would love to set up a platoon between Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukodome in center field. Although Kosuke’s natural position is right field, he has the speed and agility to play the center field position if he makes extra efforts to play the position during the off-season. Reed Johnson is arbitration eligible, but the Cubs are expected to sign Johnson to a 1 or 2-year deal in order to keep him on the north side.
After a promising start to the season, including a 3-run home run in the bottom of the 9th inning of the Cubs home opener that sent the game into extra innings, Kosuke Fukodome put up mediocre numbers in his 1st season in the Major Leagues. Fukodome had a .257 batting average in 501 at-bats. His 81 walks helped him with a .359 on-base percentage, but he only hit 10 home runs with 58 RBI’s, much too little for a left-handed hitting right fielder. It was his first year in MLB and as teams saw him more often, they developed a different game plan against him by peppering him with off-speed pitches. There is a chance he could turn it around in 2009, but he is probably more like a high .200 hitter than a low .300 hitter. His $48 million contract over 4 years seems to be a contract mistake by Cubs GM Jim Hendry.
Reed Johnson, on the other hand, was one of the best mid-season pick-ups by a GM in all of baseball in 2008. Reed Johnson struggled with back issues during the 2007 season and only played in 79 games for the Toronto Blue Jays. When the Jays released Johnson right after the season began, Hendry pounced to pick up the career .284 hitter. In 109 games for the Cubs, Johnson managed 333 at-bats in a platoon role in center field with Jim Edmonds (the Felix Pie experiment died with a big thud very early in the season). In almost 200 less at-bats then Fukodome, Johnson hit 6 home runs and drove in 50 runs, while amassing a .358 on-base percentage.
A Johnson-Fukodome experiment in center field could free up the Cubs to pursue a left-handed hitting right fielder with some pop. It could also clear the way for a Brian Roberts trade. Roberts would start at 2nd base, while Mark DeRosa would start in right field. Hendry is extremely focused on a potential trade with the San Diego Padres for Jake Peavy. Until that shakes out, along with the Cubs pursuit of re-signing free agents Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood, we might not hear more about Jim Hendry’s intentions with respect to the Cubs outfield situation.