© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

12/10/07 1:37 PM ET

Hot Stove: Fukudome could cash in big

Level of interest in Japanese free agent driving up price

We aren't certain whether the Japanese fire up their own version of the Hot Stove League -- Hibachi League? -- but our Hot Stove is about to get a Japanese glow.

The next flash point appears to be Kosuke Fukudome, the unrestricted -- no posting process required -- free-agent outfielder who over the weekend made his decision to come to the Major Leagues.

Now, the 30-year-old left-handed hitter only has to decide where he will go, which of the offers made to him he will accept.

As agent Joe Urbon said, Fukudome "has enough information to make a decision."

The two Chicago clubs are prepared to clash big-time over Fukudome -- unless the Padres beat them to the punch. San Diego has reportedly made an offer that would make him the club's highest-priced free-agent import ever, but if the rumblings out of Chicago's North Side are accurate, that might not be close to being sufficient.

While Fukudome, typical of Japanese players, has been rumored to be favoring a West Coast club, Urbon told the San Diego Union-Tribune that geography would become a factor only as a tiebreaker in comparable contract offers.

The Padres made a bid in excess of the top Japanese offer rejected by Fukudome -- a four-year, $30 million pitch by the Yomiuri Giants.

However, the Cubs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, "are prepared to offer a mega-package similar to the eye-popping deal they presented last offseason to free-agent left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who bagged an eight-year, $136 million contract."

Fukudome has a career on-base percentage of nearly .400 and, although right field is considered his best position, is regarded by the Padres as someone who could ably replace Mike Cameron in center.

Otherwise, a distinct holiday-inspired cooling trend has been detected around the Hot Stove, although there have been a few new coals in the fire.

Weekend rewind:

• After spending the first two months of their offseason working to hold onto their own (Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Jose Molina, Andy Pettitte), the Yankees added a new key piece in reliever LaTroy Hawkins. One of the Colorado late-season heroes agreed to a $3.75 million deal, pending a physical.

Hot Stove
Hawkins will be the new Luis Vizcaino, whose request for a three-year contract prompted the Yankees to look elsewhere.

• Eric Gagne continued the reconstruction of the Brewers' bullpen, reaching a preliminary agreement on a 2008 contract for $10 million. Gagne, who flashed his closer's touch in Texas last season before struggling later as a setup man in Boston, will get a crack at Francisco Cordero's old job and is the fourth relief newcomer in Milwaukee this offseason. Guillermo Mota and Solomon Torres, acquired in trades with the Mets and Pirates, respectively, and free agent David Riske preceded him.

• Milton Bradley reunited with his former A's coach, joining manager Ron Washington and his Texas Rangers on a one-year deal reportedly worth $5 million. That figure is about $1 million more than the offer on the table from the Padres, who had spoken optimistically a couple of days earlier of retaining Bradley.

Elsewhere around the Hot Stove ...

Reds: Although some people in the Baltimore organization may have been surprised to hear it, an "insider" in the Cincinnati organization rates the Reds' chances of landing left-hander Erik Bedard "at 75 percent," according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The paper also speculated that a package of Homer Bailey, Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto could get a deal done.

Phillies: After striking out on several options and being dismayed at the Winter Meetings by the trade price of pitching, the Phillies are said to be taking a look at Kris Benson. The free-agent right-hander, inactive last season due to rotator cuff surgery, is set to audition for teams next Monday and, if they like what they see, the Phils could bid for him.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.