Well, the All-Star Break is over, and the Cleveland Indians now find themselves in an unfamiliar position: entering the first weekend of the season’s second half, they’re in first place in the AL Central and as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, they look like buyers.
Especially in the wake of Shin-Soo Choo’s injury, the Indians are in need of a hitter. Anthony Castrovince reported that Indians are “kicking the tires for offensive help on the trade market,” and Mark Shapiro said the front office spent the All-Star Break “looking at every [opportunity] to improve.” Ownership seems to have cash to spend, but the team bigwigs wisely don’t want to give up top prospects to marginally improve their chances of making the playoffs this season.
The Chicago Cubs find themselves in a nearly opposite situation. The Cubs are 19 games under .500 and 12.5 games out of a playoff spot. The 2011 team is a big-budget failure, and it could well be time to blow up and start over.
Among the prime candidates to shipped out of the North Side is right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. His contract expires at the end of the season, so he won’t be around long enough for his contributions to make any difference to the Cubs. And he currently projects as a Type B free agent, so the best they’re likely to get is a single sandwich-round compensation pick (under the not-so-safe assumption that he would decline their arbitration offer).
Could Fukudome be a fit for the Tribe?
Fukudome would be a clear upgrade over the Indians’ current right-field platoon. In the first half of the season, he hit .275/.379/.372 with a 108 wRC+—i.e., he was 8 percent better than the average MLB hitter. Given that Travis Buck leads Choo’s replacements with an 87 wRC+, Fukudome would be a pretty significant improvement.
One potential area of concern is defense. Never a Gold Glove-caliber fielder to begin with, Fukudome has -7.4 UZR to his name this year and has been 13 runs below average since last year. However, Total Zone likes his defense, calling him +18 runs in right field for his career, as does DRS (+11 career, +3 in 2011). All in all, I’d say the upgrade from his bat would make up for whatever shortcomings would come from his glove.
But of course, just because he’d fit with the Indians doesn’t mean he’s a realistic target. Would he be within the Tribe’s price range? I’d say so.
Fukudome is making $13.5 million this year, meaning he has about $6 million left on his contract—probably more than he’d be worth to the Indians. The Cubs would surely be willing to eat at least some of that; if they covered half his remaining salary, it could be a worthwhile investment for the Tribe.
The other issue is what the Cubs would demand in return. This one is somewhat tricky, as the returns in salary dump deals like this are hard to predict. Given that the Indians already have a capable solution in-house it wouldn’t be worth their while to give up anyone they might miss, and Cubs GM Jim Hendry would probably want more than what Cleveland would offer. But with so many other right fielders on the market—Carlos Beltran, Ryan Ludwick, Andre Ethier—Hendry’s already-poor leverage is even more lacking.
And yet, the Cubs aren’t going to give him away for nothing. Acquiring him would be more expensive (in both money and prospects) than trading for David DeJesus or calling up Jerad Head, and in all likelihood he wouldn’t be as good.
Fukudome would definitely be a realistic target for the Tribe and I’d certainly be glad to see him in a Cleveland uniform. But while he’d be better than the status quo, at this point I think there are better ways for the Indians to spend their resources at the trade deadline.