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Indians Make a Painless Move, Acquire Fukudome

If you missed the news from earlier, the Cleveland Indians today pulled off a surprising deal by acquiring Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs in exchange for minor leaguers Carlton Smith and Abner -- no, not THAT Abner -- Abreu. In a corresponding move, the Tribe then designated Travis Buck for assignment. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman says the Indians are still looking for offensive help and might possibly turn to Ryan Ludwick.

Before hearing about what the Cubs were recieving in exchange for Kosuke, my reaction was "well, the last time the Indians swapped players with the Cubs, they ended up trading Chris Archer in addition to other players, though non-prospects." That's obviously changed since we know that both Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith are non-prospects, at least according to those who have seen the two play extensively. On the other hand, the Indians didn't exactly get a Carlos Beltran from the selling Cubs, which I at least hope wasn't their intention when acquiring Kosuke Fukudome.

Aside from not being that good of an offensive player (although we'll get to that in a minute), Fukudome is basically a statue in the outfield. He's cost the Cubs 13.1 runs with the glove over the past two seasons, and prior to that had only been worth 4.6 runs. This is mainly due to horrific range, which generally plays the biggest role in determining one's UZR. He has a decent arm but one that hasn't made the biggest of differences during his time spent in America; in two of his four years his arm has been below average.

On the other hand, he's been a pretty good player throughout his Major League career. This year, he's been very lucky on balls put in play, but his career BABIP suggests he's been right around league average (.307). Even so, his numbers are quite inflated this year, even with regression that's taken it's toll. Sure, a .273/.374/.369 line looks sexy, but not when it's accompanied by an 0.2 WAR and only a 106 wRC+, which though above average, is low largely in part due to lousy baserunning. 

Fukudome's walk and strikeout rates have both been worse than last years, which is another reason why I can't figure out Kosuke's attraction. Although even if he isn't that good there's no reason to think that his luck on balls in play will not continue, especially over the next two months. Updated ZiPS has Fukudome finishing the year with a .334 wOBA and with a strikeout rate right around the league average, but then again, the Indians didn't exactly give up Drew Pomeranz or anything in this deal.

Speaking of which, they did give up "something." I use emphasis on "something," because technically they gave up "something." But Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith -- two fantastic names, might I add -- aren't prospects to say the least and with the Cubs only receiving 776K from the Tribe, the Tribe are clear winners of this deal, despite Kosuke Fukudome not being that good of a player anymore. Even so, Abreu is the biggest prospect of this deal and was touted only just a couple of years ago. Here's a scouting report -- courtesy on Indians Prospect Insider -- on him from the beginning of 2009:

Abreu probably has some of the best raw power in the entire organization, and as he grows into his big frame has the potential to add much more strength with the chance to have well above average power at the major league level.  His build and look is a lot like Alfonso Soriano in that he is tall and skinny with very long arms and legs, but even with his wiry frame he has some awesome raw power and the ball just explodes off his bat.  He has strong hands and a natural whip in his swing that is hard to teach, and showcases a very quick bat on inside pitches that allows him to drive the ball pull side.  He generates excellent bat speed and has the ability to hit the ball out to any part of the ballpark.  A lot of the Gulf Coast teams play in the big league spring training parks, so it is something when you see an 18-year old hitting the ball out of a major league ballpark to the opposite field. 

While he is tall and very skinny, he has a body that will allow him to gain weight and grow into it more the next few seasons.  He is an average runner, but as he fills out he could see a spike in his speed to a fringe above average.  He is a very aggressive hitter at the plate so he will likely always be prone to high strikeout totals as demonstrated by his 52 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 199 at bats in the Gulf Coast League last year.  The key going forward is not to significantly reduce the strikeouts, but to better improve his plate discipline where he can work counts a little more by being a little more patient to wait for his pitch and draw more walks. 

While he is very young and strong, Abreu is also relatively versatile.  He came in as a shortstop, but was moved to third base last year and displayed some real soft hands and good range at the position.  The Indians are not sure whether he is going to be an infielder or an outfielder, and he profiles as an average defender really anywhere, but they plan to exhaust every opportunity to keep him at a premium position in the infield at this point.  It still looks like at some point down the road because of his athleticism, cannon for an arm and of course his bat that he could be destined for a move to the outfield. 

Though he still has some upside, this report was written before he struck out 102 times in 336 Carolina League at-bats. In addition, despite a quick bat he's failed to live up to his potential power-wise, which was easily hit best tool at the time he was signed. Unlike Smith, Abreu still posses' offensive upside to what could eventually translate in to Major League assets, but that ship has likely sailed and he's not that much of a prospect anymore. Smith on the other hand might see some time in the bigs this September, but only as a ROOGY and that's the best situation. He features underwhelming stuff and has only one solid minor league season (he was drafted on '04) under his belt, even though he's shown the ability to get K's this season.

While this isn't a trade for the ages, it's certainly one to feel good about if you're a fan of the Tribe. While Fukudome isn't overwhelmingly good, he doesn't put fans in the seats (at least not anymore). But of course, the amount of money tossed over to the Cubs in addition to the duo of so-called prospects makes this deal compelling. If the Indians really are looking for additional offensive help, the more the merrier. But if Fukudome's luck on balls in play continue they might not need much else.