On a scratch-off ticket named Fukudome…

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

The Indians fired their first (and at this point, there’s really no telling it if will be their last) bullet of the Trade Deadline dealing season Thursday, when they reeled in Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs for a couple of fringe prospects in Carlton Smith and Abner Abreu, with very little additional salary being taken on. The Cubs are picking up the vast majority (reportedly, nearly $4 million of $4.7 million) of Fukudome’s remaining salary for 2011, and Fukudome will likely be eligible for free agency in November… assuming, of course, that the Indians don’t offer a 34-year-old outfielder with no power a long-term extension.

(Note that the Indians can offer Fukudome arbitration and reap a supplemental Draft pick if he turns them down and signs with another Major League club. But given that Fukudome is making $14.5 million this year, it would be fairly foolish to offer him arbitration.)

So this is basically the baseball equivalent of passing by one of those lotto vending machines on your way out of Giant Eagle and throwing in $1 for a scratch-off. I’m not even going to compare this to buying a Mega Millions ticket or even a $5 scratch-off, because that would seem to imply the possibility of a major payout. Fukudome panning out to the best of his abilities would be about the equivalent of pocketing a couple hundred bucks from that token investment. It’s not going to speed up your retirement, but at least it’ll pay the electric bill.

After getting no-hit by Ervin Santana, the Indians’ offensive needs are clearly at their height, and Fukudome, who has a .374 on-base percentage that would rank second behind Travis Hafner (.399), is, at minimum, an upgrade over your daily dose of Zeke Carrera, Austin Kearns and the newly DFA’d Travis Buck.

Of course, it should also be noted that Fukudome is a notorious fast-starter (the anti-Jhonny Peralta, in that regard) and quick cooler-offer. That impressive season OBP is amped-up by April, when Fukudome turned in a .383/.486/.400 slash line. In the time since, Fukudome’s line is a much-more-pedestrian .245/.343/.361. He has a .329 OBP in July, for whatever it’s worth.

Speaking of potentially worthless stats, Fukudome has a .217 AVG, .308 OBP and .286 SLG in 53 career games against American League clubs, and, in a related development, the Indians play in the American League. That’s just fun with small samples… or so the Indians hope.

Really, beyond his ability to draw walks (and I’m not dismissing that ability, by any means, because this Indians offense needs all the help it can get) Fukudome is a whole lot of ho-hum. But at least he doesn’t have an abysmal left-right split or a proclivity toward letting fly balls fall at his feet. Essentially, the Indians are upgrading a situation that really wasn’t all that difficult to upgrade.

So while this trade caused the usual talk-radio outbursts, you can’t fault the Indians for taking a shot with Fukudome given their current options, with both Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo on the shelf, and what they gave up to get him. If Fukudome fails, you can criticize them as much as you might criticize a friend who buys the $1 Cash Explosion ticket and only gets two of the required three matching prize amounts. It truly is no big deal.

Perhaps a bigger deal is in the works. For one, the Indians have been rumored to be in on the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. If acquired, though, he might not actually do much to help them in this particular playoff chase, as the Indians are already wasting plenty of solid starting efforts as is. But he’s under contractual control on the cheap through 2014, and he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball in the first half of 2010.

The trouble for the Tribe, as we’ve noted ad nauseam, is that their greatest need — a reliable run-producing bat — simply isn’t readily available in this market, even if they were inclined to give up top-end talent to land one. Carlos Beltran was, famously, the best option in that regard, and the Indians never even got to the point of discussing names with the Mets because Beltran was simply never going to come here. Colby Rasmus was made available by the Cardinals (and hauled in by Toronto for a surprisingly small bounty), but getting him for the long-term would have required compromising the current pitching staff in the short-term, and that’s no way to stay in contention.

What’s notable is that, in pursuing Beltran, the Indians did, indeed, show a willingness to dangle what they would consider to be real talent from the upper levels of their farm system, and this tells you a bit about how they view this 2011 opportunity in relation to the purported “Plan” at large.

“Let’s not be mistaken,” GM Chris Antonetti said the other day. “The plan is to win games, get into the postseason and win a championship. Nobody’s smart enough to know when factors will line up to have those opportunities. We have an opportunity in front of us to potentially reach the postseason. We don’t take those opportunities lightly.”

In other words, the Indians remember well what “The Plan” yielded in 2008 and 2009, two years in which injuries and poor performance eroded what had seemed to be realistic expectations in April. The future might very well be grim, for all we know, so you might as well bring your A-Game to a pleasant present.

Reality, though, keeps intervening on the Indians, whether it’s in the form of Alex White, Sizemore and Choo going down with injury (and now we know White won’t be back soon enough for the Indians to consider him a starting rotation factor), Beltran giving them the no-trade treatment or guys like Ryan Ludwick and Josh Willingham being the sexiest “big bats” left in the trade market (remind me… how did that Ludwick acquisition work out for the Padres last year?).

Quick fixes are rarely found at the Deadline (a point I attempted to articulate in this column), and they are certainly not available to these Indians. That’s why you try to look for incremental improvements, and Fukudome, at very little expense, figures to be that.



Good column, AC. It really is all about improving the odds in any way possible at this point. I would expect the Tribe to make a hard run at Ludwick to be their 4th OF and then either Jimenez or Kuroda. If the Tribe makes 3 deals by the deadline, that would be pretty impressive. And while it might not make the offense substantially better, the last 11 games we’ve lost have all been by an average of less than 2 runs — two stinking runs that would have us in first place again.

AC — you are the most insightful writer in the MLB stable, and worthy to be read daily. What I don’t get is why the Dolans didn’t try to right this ship a month ago when it might have meant something. The weeks of parading Kearns, Buck, Valbuena, et al., in front of Tribe fans is so painfully, obviously, squeezing lime from a carrot, it’s embarrassing. Trade for Fukudome? Did you see what the Sun-Times said? In effect, “he’s a bust, good riddance,” even for a two month rental. Sigh.

Bruce, why do you think the front office WASN’T trying to upgrade earlier in the season? I seem to recall Antonetti actually saying they were trying to get someone earlier because they wanted to get more than just two months out of whoever they got.
And Fukudome is an obvious upgrade over what we already have. He’s also pretty good compared to what’s out there, unless you think Willingham or Ludwick are all that great.

Kyle, I left the country at the end of May the Indians were seven games up; when I returned to Ohio near the end of July, they had fallen so far, so fast, had lost so many players to injury, they were playing Valbuena in the outfield (!)–two months pass, you’re in free fall, and what you do is put Valbuena in left field? I rest my case. If this is the Dolans “trying to upgrade,” then I don’t know what “standing pat” means. I do believe if John Hart were GM, he’d have found somebody before we had to resort to Fukudome. If we now add Ludwick, another recycled outfielder near the end of his career, we’ll be going through the motions. . . What we have here is a lack of imagination. Indians fans deserve better.

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