Friday, July 29, 2011

Special Trade Recap: Fukudome to Cleveland

As the local Cleveland Indians apologist, I was asked to give my slant on the trade that sent Kosuke Fukudome to the Tribe today. Now this is obviously outside of my "area of expertise", being the late-inning relief guy here. But I think getting out of one's element every once in a while isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So here goes.

The Details: Chicago Cubs OF Kosuke Fukudome was sent to the Indians yesterday for two minor league players: OF Abner Abreu (Class A Kinston) and RH RP Carlton Smith (Class AAA Columbus). Fukudome, who has $4.7 million left on his contract for 2011, will have all but $775,000 of it picked up by the Cubs. Fukudome is in the last year of his contract and is potentially worth free-agent compensation this coming offseason. This means if the Indians offer Fukudome arbitration and he declines in favor of free agency, he would qualify as a Type B free agent (and would be worth one compensatory pick in '12). To make room on the 40-man roster, OF Travis Buck was designated for assignment.

The Breakdown: Fukudome was reasonably solid in the lead-off spot for the Cubs, contributing a .275 BA / .374 OBP / .742 OPS. The 13 RBIs is a little misleading, as he hit lead-off for a National League team. He's an extremely patient hitter, sporting an average of 4.33 pitches / AB this year. While he's not going to impress with his power (3 HR this season, 13 HRs tops in his MLB career, and a .141 ISO for his MLB career leans towards him being naturally light on power), his bat-handling is relatively good (.330 BAbip, 5-for-5 in sac bunts, only 2 GIDP, and a 5.1 AB/K ratio). He has plus speed (2-for-4 in steals this year, 27-for-51 on his MLB career), and is a flexible outfielder (he's played both RF and CF in three of the four years of his career).

The Positives:
  • Fukudome is stats-wise instantly the best outfielder on the Indians not named Michael BrantleyWith Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo on the shelf for at least the next month (Choo is hopeful for mid-August, but that should be taken with a grain of salt), the Tribe has been platooning Travis Buck, Austin Kearns, Ezequiel Carrera, and Shelley Duncan (currently in AAA Columbus)... We'll forget that little "experiment" with Luis Valbuena in the outfield. Both Sizemore and Choo were picking up their games (they were a combined 20-for-63 with ten walks and 20 RBIs in their last ten games played) before they were hurt, so their losses were at the worst time possible. Since the All-Star Break, the platoon mentioned above (minus Duncan, who had not played since July 8th and was sent back down to Columbus July 17th) has gone 14-for-73 (.192) with 12 walks and five RBIs. Fukudome by himself went 9-for-35 (.257) with four walks and an RBI. Travis Buck was by far the weakest link of the platoon (2-for-24, 2 BB, 2 RBI), and he was designated for assignment to get Fukudome a spot on the 40-man roster.
  • Fukudome gives the Indians a legitimate contact bat that is sorely needed. How sorely? In the 13 games (5-8 record) since the All-Star Break, the Indians are dead last in the AL in BA (.216) and OBP (.285), second-to-last in hits (91) and RBIs (43), and third-to-last in runs (46). This year, Fukudome is batting .311 with RISP, with an impressive OPS of .982, and a .394 BAbip. That's actually an improvement on his solid career marks (.274 / .871 / .306). And while his bat isn't a power right-handed bat like the Indians fans insist they need, it's a marked improvement over what they have available.
The Negatives:
  • The biggest (and only real) negative can be distilled down to two words. Two simple words make all of the above stats on Fukudome pale instantly: League Change. All of the numbers are including NL pitching, whom he's dealt with for the last 4 years. With this lovely invention of Interleague Play, we can see how he's stack up against the pitchers of the AL. The stats are not-so-hot. In 53 games (200 PA) against the AL in his career, he's batting .217, sporting an OPS of .594, but does have a .282 BAbip. He's hit a home run, driven in eight... But his K/BB ratio is just a touch over 2.00 (43 Ks, 21 BBs).
  • He's going to be coming into a situation with the Indians where he's going to be asked to produce pretty much immediately. He's made a more drastic change of scenery before, coming from the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League to join the Cubs in '08 (a campaign that saw him as an All-Star Starter and in the running for the Rookie of the Year). This time, he at least has some familiarity with the pitching coming in, and might be able to bring the professionalism and solid skillset to bear quickly.
The Verdict: In my mind, we won't know the full effect of this trade for about 2-3 weeks. Fukudome will need an adjustment period to full-time AL pitching staffs, but he has solid experience and a good eye to back him up. I feel he'll hit a good stride in September, producing near his career averages in the important categories. He is a low-risk, medium-reward move that doesn't have the "Wow!" factor of a Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants. However, he is one of the pieces that the Indians needed to fill the gaping holes of Sizemore and Choo.

I feel that the Indians aren't done making moves, but this first one is a good step in the right direction.

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