July 28, 2011
The Next-Best Option
You can’t dog the Indians for trying to go for the gusto, as Peter Gammons reported on Tuesday that they made an effort to acquire Carlos Beltran. An offer to pay the rest of Beltran’s salary and give the Mets a good player might have been enough for New York’s management, but the Indians’ playoff aspirations were not enough for Beltran to waive his no-trade clause. Instead, the Indians had to settle for Fukudome, who is a nice piece, but certainly no Beltran.
Fukudome bats lefty and is proficient in reaching base. His career on-base percentage is .369 for a reason, and it’s largely due to taking a walk in more than 14 percent of his plate appearances. Beyond the free pass, Fukudome’s next-best trait nowadays seems to be hitting singles; his power has seemingly vanished, as he has three home runs so far and is recording an extra-base hit on only 25 percent of his total hits (entering the season his career rate was 36 percent).
Getting on base through singles and walks is fine, but Fukudome is limited in what he can do once he reaches. He has 27 career stolen bases, but on 51 opportunities—or a success rate of 53 percent, well below the acceptable boundary. Fukudome doesn’t take the extra base as often anymore during the run of play, making him something of a base-clogger. He has also seen nearly 90 percent of his plate appearances since 2009 come against right-handed pitching, yet has amassed a line of .263/.373/.413. That isn’t poor by any means; it just demonstrates that Fukudome is not going to light the sky on fire with moonshots.
Fukudome is a tick above average on defense, and has amassed four Fielding Runs Above Average throughout his career. With Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo missing time with injury, no outfield the Indians can produce is their ideal, though a platoon of Fukudome and Austin Kearns down the stretch makes some sense. In the interim, the Indians may choose to play Fukudome in a corner and push Michael Brantley back into center in place of Ezequiel Carrera.
The sum of Fukudome’s parts is a corner outfielder capable of producing 1.5 to 2 Wins Above Replacement Player per season. That isn’t superstar-level production, but it can help you win games. Between the production, the transaction cost (the two prospects and less than $800,000 in salary), and the increased likelihood of making the postseason*, the Indians have to walk away happy with this deal, even if they would have rather made a bigger splash.
One more thing: Some may wonder if Fukudome could bring back a draft pick to the Indians at season’s end; after all, he is projected for Type-B compensation. The problem with that is Fukudome’s contract stipulates his club must extend him by the middle of November or otherwise release him. Unless the Indians can wheel and deal with Fukudome and his agent, it doesn’t seem likely that they will get a draft pick on top of his services. —R.J. Anderson
*Look for an updated post-season odds report later in the afternoon.
Acquired OF-R Abner Abreu and RHP Carlton Smith from the Indians for OF-L Kosuke Fukudome and cash. [7/28]
The Cubs got rid of their easiest-to-trade player by shipping Kosuke Fukodome to Cleveland, and since he's merely a decent rental, I was surprised to see Chicago get more than just a pair of warm bodies in return. Chances are neither of these guys make an impact in the majors, but both at least do a few things to give them a chance.
Abreu was one of my sleepers heading into the 2010 season. I mentioned his impressive power, and he responded with four home runs in 106 games. He's picked up the pace this year, with 12 home runs in 91 games while repeating at High-A Kinston, and combined with 19 stolen bases in 22 attempts, it should be no surprise to hear that he's an impressive athlete. Abreu is also a well below-average hitter with the brutal combination of swinging at everything while rarely making contact. He's not a high-risk/high-reward player as much as he's a high-risk/medium-reward type, but there's some chance of him being more than just a name.
Smith is currently in his seventh minor-league season, but he is missing bats at Triple-A. He's a classic, non-descript fastball/slider reliever, but both pitches are solid, despite his arm angle giving left-handers a very long look. He'll always need to be used carefully in a big-league role. —Kevin Goldstein
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson