Tribe acquires Fukudome in deal with Cubs
Prospects Abreu and Smith, plus cash, sent to Chicago
CLEVELAND -- The Indians understand that one transaction alone is not enough to solve all of their current issues. It does, however, take one move to initiate the process of improving Cleveland's chances of making the postseason.
On Thursday, the Indians pulled the trigger on a trade that reeled in outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs and sent a pair of Minor Leaguers off to Chicago. The Tribe is still exploring other potential deals -- strengthening the offense and the rotation being the team's top priorities.
For now, Cleveland feels Fukudome can make an immediate difference.
"We feel we're a better team today than we were yesterday," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said on Thursday. "We think Kosuke has a chance to help us both offensively and defensively."
Never mind that Wednesday included Angels right-hander Ervin Santana's no-hitter against the Indians at Progressive Field. But Antonetti's point was made: Fukudome upgrades Cleveland's depleted outfield. He gives the Tribe a solid defender and a hitter capable of reaching base consistently.
On the surface, the addition of Fukudome hardly looks like the catalyst that will propel the Indians to the American League Central crown. That is why Cleveland is still hunting for other ways to boost the roster prior to Sunday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"I think this incrementally improves us," Antonetti said. "But that's not going to limit us in terms of the other opportunities we explore."
In order to acquire the 34-year-old Fukudome, the Indians sent Class A Kinston outfielder Abner Abreu and Triple-A Columbus pitcher Carlton Smith to Chicago. The Cubs, meanwhile, agreed to pick up all but $775,000 of the estimated $4.7 million remaining on Fukudome's 2011 contract.
Fukudome is under contract for $13.5 million this season, which is the final year under the four-year, $48 million deal he inked with the Cubs in December of 2007. Prior to coming to the Major Leagues, Fukudome spent nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons in the Japanese Central League.
It is also worth noting that Fukudome is potentially worth free-agent compensation this coming offseason. Antonetti indicated that, if the Indians offer Fukudome arbitration and he declines in favor of free agency, the outfielder would qualify as a Type B free agent (worth one compensatory pick), as things currently stand.
Final approval of the deal was placed in the hands of Fukudome, whose four-year pact with the Cubs included a limited no-trade clause. Cleveland was listed among the prohibited teams, but the Japanese outfielder waived his rights and allowed the two ballclubs to complete the swap.
"It was a difficult decision to make," Fukudome told reporters in Milwaukee. "And not simply because I was here for a long time, but also it's a different league."
The Indians are hoping Fukudome's style will also play in the American League. In 87 games with the Cubs this season, the left-handed-hitting outfielder hit at a .273 clip with three home runs, 15 doubles and 13 RBIs. Along the way, he posted a .374 on-base percentage, which would rank second among Indians regulars.
Fukudome admittedly did not know much about Cleveland.
"I know there is a lake, Lake Erie," he said. "And I know it looks like Chicago."
As things currently stand, Fukudome will get the majority of the playing time in right field until Shin-Soo Choo (broken left thumb) returns from the disabled list. On Wednesday, Choo cited the Aug. 16-18 series against the White Sox as his target for rejoining Cleveland's ailing lineup.
When Choo and center fielder Grady Sizemore, or both, do return to the mix, Fukudome has the ability to slide to another outfield position. Fukudome has spent the majority of his career in right field for the Cubs, but he has also manned center in 126 of his 475 career games in the Majors.
"He has some versatility in the outfield," Antonetti said. "Our focus right now is trying to improve the team as much as we can so when Choo and Grady get back, if we're still in contention, they're return still has an impact on our competitiveness."
With Choo and Sizemore both sidelined, Cleveland has been employing an outfielder of Michael Brantley in left, rookie Ezequiel Carrera in center and Austin Kearns or Travis Buck in right.
Fukudome will essentially assume the role previously filled by Buck, who hit .228 in 50 games this year for the Tribe. To clear room on the 40-man and active rosters for Fukudome's arrival -- he is expected to be in the lineup for the Tribe on Friday -- the Indians designated Buck for assignment.
The Indians have 10 days to either trade or release Buck, or to re-assign him to a Minor League affiliate, if he clears waivers.
"It was a difficult decision with Travis," Antonetti said. "But we felt [acquiring Fukudome] was going to mostly displace his at-bats and we needed to create a spot on the 40-man roster. That's why we went that route."
Antonetti said Fukudome -- a leadoff hitter for most of this season -- has the ability to hit in multiple spots within Cleveland's lineup. That decision will be left to manager Manny Acta. Brantley and Carrera have both spent time in the lineup's first slot with Sizemore on the disabled list.
"He makes our team better and that's all you can ask for," Acta said. "I know we have a couple of guys out. You have to think about tomorrow and we'll cross the bridge when we get there. Hopefully those guys can get healthy and help us out.
"Kosuke has been a good player for the last couple of years and he's going to give us some stability out there."
Cleveland parted with a pair of mid-tier prospects in Abreu and Smith.
The 21-year-old Abreu -- the Indians' most recent Minor League Player of the Week -- was batting .244 with 12 homers, 16 doubles and 35 RBIs through 91 games with Kinston. At Triple-A, the 25-year-old Smith was 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA across 34 appearances, which included 46 strikeouts in 46 innings.
"We understand that we will need to give up players that we like," Antonetti said, "[players] that we think are talented, in order to improve our team. I think this demonstrates that. ... We felt this was a reasonable cost and worthwhile to do."
And the Indians do not appear to be done searching for help through trades.
On the starting pitching front, Cleveland has been tied to Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies and Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. On the offensive side of things, the Indians have been linked to Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll, as well as outfielders Ryan Ludwick (Padres) and Coco Crisp (A's).
Antonetti intimated that the Tribe is still looking for ways to upgrade the roster.
"Our goal is to try to improve our run scoring and our run prevention," Antonetti said. "We'll continue to look at each opportunity, if it's a pitcher or a position player, and we'll try to weigh that against our alternatives and see if we feel it makes us better at a reasonable cost.
"We'll continue to pursue all those avenues."