The Cleveland Indians finally struck a deal for an outfielder, but definitely not the name anyone was expecting.
But it is one heck of a name. The Indians acquired Kosuke Fukudome from the Chicago Cubs Thursday morning in a swap that will net the Cubs a pair of prospects as they will take on most of Fukudome's remaining $4.7 salary. The deal has been largely reported from ESPN's Buster Olney, and confirmed by numerous other sources since.
Reportedly, the prospects heading to Chicago are Columbus reliever Carlton Smith and Kinston Outfielder Abner Abreu.
The Japanese import was a extreme disappointment for Chicago after signing him out of Japan in 2008 to a 4-year, $48 million deal. He was brought in to be a top-flight outfielder, but ended up being nothing more than a platoon player, having played mostly against right-handed pitchers this season. The left-handed hitting outfielder has a career average of .249 against left-handed hitters.
Fukudome's best season was last year when he played in 130 games and hit .263 with a .371 on-base perctentage. He hit 13 home runs (career high in MLB), with 44 RBI and 45 runs scored. His OPS was at .809 and he was largely fueled by a stellar April, when he hit .344 with five home runs and 16 RBI.
In fact, if every month was April, Fukdome might be a MVP candidate every year. Career-wise, he's hit .345 with 10 of his 32 career home runs coming in April. From there on, his average steadily decreases to .269 in May, .216 in June, back up to .255 and .275 in July and August, but back down to .198 in September. Let's hope the Indians see some of that August production from Fukudome as he fills in for fellow Asian, Shin-Soo Choo. Although Fukudome is from Japan, and Choo from Korea, the addition may gave Choo someone on the team to relate to in terms of coming over from an Asian country.
Fukudome's Numbers Exlcuding April: .246 AVG, .343 OBP, .704 OPS, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 28 R, 2/4 SB (272 PA)
Fukudome's April: .383 AVG, .486 OBP, .886 OPS, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 5 R, 5 R, 0/0 SB (73 PA)
Fukudome has hit .217 during interleague play against American League pitching with a .286 slugging percentage. His lone AL home run has come against Baltimore.
Against combined AL Central teams excluding the Indians, he is hitting .207 with nine walks and 30 strikeouts. That 22 hits in 108 at-bats against the Royals, Twins, White Sox, and Tigers.
Fukudome should join the Tribe for their series with Kansas City this weekend at Progressive Field, a place Fukudome has never played at. He is 1-for-10 against the Royals with six strikeouts. He has faced two of the probable starters for the Royals, Jeff Francis (1-for-2, 2B, BB) who starts Friday and Felipe Paulino (1-for-10, 2 BB, 1 K) who starts Saturday.
It's a very small price to pay for Fukudome who had to waive his no-trade clause to join the Indians. That, along with the Cubs picking up most of his salary most likely led to the Indians giving up what they did. Carlton Smith is likely a career minor league reliever, who had a hot April and has since regressed back to his normal standards (4.50 ERA, 46 K, 20 BB). Smith is a 25-year-old got his first taste of Triple-A ball after dominating with Akron in 2009, but has shown no separation at the last level.
Smith is a former 21st round pick of the Indians back in 2004 out of Piscataway High School in New Jersey.
The big loss is Abner Abreu, a soon to be 21-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic. Abreu had a great breakout year in 2009 when he hit .305 with 27 extra-base hits and 30 RBI for the Lake County Captains. His season was ended abrutly after 63 games after a shoulder injury. Since then, he has not been the same after hitting .252 with four home runs and a .289 OBP for Kinston last season. His biggest struggle was striking out 130 times to just 20 walks.
Recently he has caught fire, with a .352 average in July with eight home runs and 18 RBI. However he has struck out 102 times with 22 walks. Abreu is still young and still has very much room to grow, but he isn't looking like the super-prospect he could have been after his initial debut with the Dominican Summer League team in 2007.
For those of you bemoaning the Fukudome deal, give it some time. Let him come in and get an opportunity. In baseball terms, the Indians aren't looking to hit a home run, but rather looking to hit a single and turn it into a double. Fukudome isn't going to change the offense completely and he's hardly an impact bat. But his price is substantially lower than other options out there. The indians have stated time and time again they are not interested in breaking their prospect bank just to make the playoffs. If they do it with Fukudome, then they will have accomplished their goal.
All the stats above don't look too appealing, unless it's April, which it isn't. But Fukudome has shown great on-base ability with a high OBP in all four years he's played for the Cubs. He averages a .369 OBP in 513 career games. Last year he had just three more strikeouts than walks and although he isn't a run-producer, he can bring some plate discipline to the team.
And according to Jordan Bastian, this may not be the only outfielder the Indians acquire before Sunday's deadline. So don't knock it til it plays out fully.
To clear room on the 40-man and active roster, the Indians designated oft-optioned outfielder Travis Buck for assignment. If he clears waivers, he could return to Columbus, but at this time of the year, there are many teams lower in the division looking for players like him. He may not survive the waiver process.
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