CLEVELAND — It wasn’t the blockbuster move most fans were hoping for, but the Indians did make a trade Thursday, acquiring one-time big-name outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs for minor leaguers Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith.
In need of offensive assistance, the Indians think they got that and more from Fukudome, a three-year veteran, who hit .273 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 87 games for Chicago this season.
“Generally speaking, we feel we are a better team today than we were yesterday,” said Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti of the addition of Fukudome, a native of Osaki, Japan, who ranked 14th in the National League through Wednesday with a .374 on-base percentage. “We feel he can help us both offensively and defensively. Ultimately, our goal is improve our run production and run prevention. I think Kosuke can help us in both areas.”
With Shin-Shoo Choo on the disabled list with a broken left thumb, Fukudome is expected to play right field on a regular basis, a spot previously occupied by Austin Kearns and Travis Buck. Buck was designated for assignment Thursday to clear room for Fukudome on the big league and 40-man roster. Fukudome was expected to arrive in Cleveland late Thursday, starting in right tonight for the series opener with Kansas City.
Fukudome has played mostly right field this year for the Cubs but did play center field in over 100 games in 2009. Either he or left fielder Michael Brantley will play center should Grady Sizemore fail to make it back from another knee injury.
“If we are still in contention when Grady and Choo come back, we’ll examine that,” Antonetti said.
Fukudome, 34, was a star in Japan before coming to the states in 2008 as a highly-touted player and signing a four-year contract with the Cubs worth $48 million. It hasn’t panned out for Fukudome, who entered the season a career .262 hitter and hasn’t hit more than 13 homers or driven in more than 58 RBIs in any of his three previous years in Chicago.
The Indians were listed as one of the teams in Fukudome’s no-trade clause but he agreed to waive it, with the Cubs responsible for the majority of what remains on his $13.5 salary for this season. He becomes a free agent at the end of the year, with the Indians able to offer him salary arbitration. If Fukudome declines, Cleveland will receive a draft pick as compensation under the current collective bargaining agreement.
“I think in the end, Kosuke looked at this as an opportunity to come to a club that was competing, and the opportunity to get regular at-bats,” Antonetti said.
Responsible for only $775,000 of Fukudome’s contract, the Indians essentially acquired him for a pair of prospects, but none from the coveted list that includes first-round draft choices Drew Pomeranz (LHP), Alex White (RHP), Lonnie Chisenhall (3B) and second-round pick Jason Kipnis (2B).
Still, Antonetti said Smith, 25, was close to pitching on the big league level, the right-handed reliever going 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 34 games for Triple-A Columbus this year.
Abreu, 22, was batting .244 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 91 games for High-A Kinston, Antonetti calling the non-drafted free-agent acquisition in 2006, a talented outfielder.
“We understand that we’re going to have to give up good players to improve the major league team,” Antonetti said. “We felt this was a reasonable cost.”
Fukudome’s addition will not appease fans, nor manager Manny Acta, who want to see the Indians bring aboard a player with the ability to hit in the middle of the order. Antonetti said Fukudome’s acquisition will not prohibit the club from doing so, as Sunday’s trading deadline approaches.
“We’re continuing to look at every opportunity to improve the team,” Antonetti said. “This isn’t going to limit us in the opportunities that we are going to continue to explore. We are going to look at anyway possible to improve the team.”
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