(He wears his shin guard well, I'll say that. Courtesy of Getty Images)
In another under-the-radar free agent signing on Friday, the Yankees added former Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome on a MiL deal and assigned him to Triple-A Empire State. The Yankees were loosely connected with Fukudome when he was first in the process of joining Major League Baseball, but he has never lived up to the "Hideki Matsui Lite" comparisons during a career of marginal improvement and very quick regression.
Strictly from a depth standpoint, this is another solid low-risk deal for the Yankees. By the time they get away from their current 5-man bench setup and have Brett Gardner return from the DL, they are going to have to put Dewayne Wise on waivers and will likely lose him to another team. To make sure they have enough OF coverage in case Gardner or somebody else gets hurt again, it's only smart to bring in another veteran player who fits their needs. Fukudome fits this description in theory, but if he is needed at some point, can he actually do anything?
Over the course of his 4+ year career, Fukudome has hit .258/.359/.395, good for a .331 wOBA and 98 wRC+. He's essentially a league average hitter who makes his living off of his ability to get on base, and he gets on base at a good clip thanks to his ability to draw walks (13.5% career BB rate). His recent results are what throw up a red flag for Fukudome. Last season he only put up a .313 wOB and a career-low 10.1% BB rate. And after hooking on with the White Sox this season, they cast him aside after just 55 plate appearances and a .171/.294/.195 batting line. At 35 years old, it's starting to look like Fukudome's best days are behind him.
And yet his skill set, however watered down it may be at age 35, fits in perfectly with the Yankees' hitting philosophies and would be a perfect match on paper for the skill set he would have to replace if Gardner were to get injured again. His on-base skills are a little better than Gardner's, his left-handed bat could play up a little in the power department from hitting in The Stadium, and although he won't provide Gold Glove-caliber outfield defense like Gardner would, Fukudome is a capable corner outfielder.
I don't expect much from Fukudome if it does come to the point where the Yankees have to play him, but for a guy who's only the backup plan to the current backup of the everyday left fielder the Yankees could do worse. At the end of the day, they are still covered from a depth perspective with Fukudome and Chris Dickerson still in the fold, and that's the most important thing.