So who is Ken Kadokura?
Prior to signing with the Yomiuri Giants for the 2007 season, Kadokura had been a serviceable swingman type for 11 NPB seasons. He lost the plot a bit in his two years with the Giants, kind of like Terry Mulholland's mid-90's stint with the Yankees. I haven't followed Kadokura closely over the last two years, but I haven't found any evidence that he's been injured - if anyone has any let me know. Wikipedia puts his absence from the top team in 2008 down to non-performance: Kadokura failed to break camp with the top team, but was recalled in April '08 to fill a middle relief role. On May 17 he blew a game in the 10th inning, and afterward was demoted again, never to be recalled. He spent the remainder of the year starting for the Giants farm team, posting a 3.21 era over 75 2/3 innings, with a 72/14 k/bb ratio. Minor league numbers don't mean much to me, but he did pitch the whole year and didn't suffer from any publicly-announced injuries.
Kadokura had a decent pre-Giants career. He's crossed the 100 IP mark six times in his career, and boasts a respectable 1146 K's in 1276 career innings. He's also given up 1296 career hits, and given up his share of home runs, so take that with a grain of salt. I'm not sure what he did differently in 2006, which was by far his best season. The last article I have on his stuff is from 2006, and it says he mainly throws a fastball, forkball and slider, and gets his fastball up to about 90 mph. Maybe I'll dig around my Shukan Baseball collection a little more over the weekend.
Kadokura was teammates with Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome for the 1999 season with Chunichi, and it's been speculated that providing Fuku a little support over the course of the long season may have played a role in this signing. I obviously don't know if that's true or not, but to me this is a sound baseball move.* We've seen a solid trend of NPB relievers performing well in MLB, Kadokura might benefit from having a more consistent role, and the Cubs current regime seems to be able to get the most out of their pitchers. Given that this is a minor league deal, there's very little risk involved, and if it helps Fukudome out somehow, that's all the better.
I'd like to share a video of his work here, but the only one I could find was this on of him getting nailed in the chin with a line drive off the bat of former Cub Pedro Valdes during the 2001 season, when he was a Kintetsu Buffalo teammate of former Cub Tuffy Rhodes.
*I guess I should re-iterate that Kadokura is on a minor league deal, and certainly a depth guy for the Cubs at this point. I do think we'll see him in the bigs at some point this year, even if it's when someone goes down with an injury.
Update, mid-day Jan 22: The Cubs introduced Kadokura today, here's a pic of him in his new Cubs gear.