Cleveland Indians Deal for Kosuke Fukudome: Why It Doesn't Help the Offense, Yet

Geordy BoverouxCorrespondent IIJuly 29, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22: Kosuke Fukudome #1 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after striking out with the tying run on base to end the 8th inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 22, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Cubs 4-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Indians made their first trade of the 2011 season when they sent High-A outfielder Abner Abreu and Triple-A reliever Carlton Smith to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.

While it was obvious that the Indians needed to acquire an outfielder in order to stay in contention in a tight AL Central race, Fukudome was not the outfielder the Tribe needed. 

Now, I am not bashing this trade by any means, general manager Chris Antonetti got Fukudome as a steal.

Abreu has some upside as a corner outfielder with plus-power, but he is a 21-year-old in High-A Kinston that still has "raw" written all over him. He may never be able to turn his tool set into on the field success though he is on a tear in the month of July. 

Smith is just an average reliever at best at Triple-A. The fact that he is 25 and was nowhere on the Indians radar means he might not have much of a future at all in the big leagues.

The issue is what the Indians needed most was a corner outfielder that drove in runs—something Fukudome is most certainly not. 

Fukudome is instead an on-base machine. His OBP (.374) is over .100 points higher than his BA (.273). While having a "moneyball" player that can get on base at a significant rate, getting on base has not been the main problem with the Indians—it has been getting the guys on base across the plate.

A perfect example is the most recent series against the Angels. As I continually deny that Ervin Santana's no-hitter ever happened, I'll focus on the second game of the three-game series. Josh Tomlin and Dan Haren were in the midst of a pitchers duel all night making it a 2-1 game entering the ninth inning for the second straight night.

The Indians managed to load the bases against Angels closer Jordan Walden (again) and seemed poised to walk off at Progressive Field (again). While the Tribe were able to get men on base, they were unable to get a single run across the plate despite the fact there were no outs with the bases loaded. Matt LaPorta grounded into the ever mind-boggling 4-2-3 double play and Jason Kipnis failed to relive the magic of his first hit the night before, instead striking out to end the game.

Adding Fukudome to the team would not have done much to help the Indians in that situation. OK, so maybe he could have gotten a walk, but with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth you want a slugger at the plate. There isn't a single fan in the ballpark screaming "ball four!" in that situation.

Fukudome may be a lot of things (an on-base machine, Japanese, the man with the most unfortunate last name in the country, etc.) but a slugger he is not. You seldom see a player with a slugging percentage lower than his on-base percentage, but Fukudome is just that. His aforementioned OBP is .374 and his SLG is .369. His OPS+ suggests he is just a marginal hitter at 104.

A more powerful bat, like Ludwick or Willingham, is what Cleveland really needs.
A more powerful bat, like Ludwick or Willingham, is what Cleveland really needs.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Again, I am not saying this was a bad deal for the Tribe. Abreu and Smith may never have seen the light of day at Progressive Field, meaning they traded two possible career minor leaguers for an everyday player—already a win. But Fukudome was not the type of player that will lead the Tribe to the playoffs.

Fukudome could definitely be a nice piece, but the Indians should look to acquire a bigger bat by the trade deadline. The issue is, there might not be a player like that available. The Houston Astros are treating Hunter Pence like something he is not, an elite hitter. Pence is a good player, but not a great one. He would never be worth the price tag. 

Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick or Athletics outfielder Josh Willingham may be the best men to target. The asking price is not much and both have a tendency to drive in runs. Ludwick has 62 RBI despite playing in spacious Petco Park and hitting in the middle of a remarkably weak lineup, and Willingham, if healthy, can hit 25 home runs a year.

If the Indians want to make it to the playoffs, Fukudome could be a nice start, but they need one more piece until they're ready for the stretch run.

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