The Chicago Cubs traded outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to the Cleveland Indians for a couple of minor leaguers.
Fukudome has been a huge disappointment in his near four year stint with the Cubs amidst a bidding war to lure him to the majors from Japan. When Fukudome played with the Chunichi Dragons, he could be counted on to hit above .300 and hit 30 homeruns a season. His lifetime batting average with the Cubs was .262 and never hit more than 13 homeruns in any season. In 2011, Fukudome hit a respectable .273 with a .374 OBP. But in nearly 350 plate appearances, he hit only three homeruns with 13 RBI.
With the Indians only having to pay $775,000 of the $4.7 million remaining on Fukudome’s contract from their perspective this is a low-risk investment. But the question is what does the Tribe expect from Fukudome? If they are looking for someone who can hit either first or second in the batting order and get on base then fine. But if they are looking to him to give them the kind of production the injured Shin-Soo Choo usually provides then the Indians are in trouble. Granted Choo’s production has fallen from its 2009 and 2010 levels but I don’t think Fukudome has Choo’s offensive tools.
Speaking of Choo, I am curious as to how he will interact with Fukudome when he comes back from the DL. There is, of course, a long standing rivalry between Japan and South Korea on all things including baseball. I remember during the 2006 World Baseball Classic when members of the South Korean team placed their flag on the pitcher’s mound after beating Japan in the semi-finals. Japan would get even by winning the final against South Korea with Ichiro Suzuki leading the way.
I also recall the Red Sox had a Japanese pitcher named Tomo Ohka and a Korean pitcher named Sun-Woo Kim in their organization. In 2000, when they both pitched with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, the team made the mistake of having them room together on the road. One day in Norfolk, Virginia, they got into a brawl during a rain delay and resumed fisticuffs at the team hotel. Both players received suspensions.
I’m not saying that Choo and Fukudome will drop gloves and go at it. But it would be interesting to see if there are cultural tensions in the Indians clubhouse as the team is now two games back of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central with the Chicago White Sox clipping at their heels.