Monday, October 25, 2010

Kosuke Fukudome: Trade Bait?

This offseason, as with every other one, Cubs fans have begun to knock on Jim Hendry's door, toting their list of demands. As usual, these demands, typically written in crayon, include a surplus of frowny faces and sad-looking ponies. So, when Cubs fans begin tap their little toes and furrow their brow about something, I usually try to ignore it.

The case of Kosuke Fukudome is different. Many Cubs fans want him traded -- immediately. They want him and his contract out of town. He is not the slugger they ordered. I too feel slighted.

In Japan's 2007 season -- his final year before joining the Cubs -- Fukudome has a .443 on-base percentage (OBP) and a .520 slugging percentage (SLG). In other words, he ruled the islands. Nearly half the time he sauntered to the plate, he ended up on base. In the MLB, his OBP has been good (.375ish), but his power has nearly evaporated (.410 SLG since his arrival).

The dagger in the heart of most Cubs fans is not just his under-performance, but his under-performance in the context of his contract. The Cubs have 6 players with 7-digit contracts going into 2011:
Alfonso Soriano: $19.0M
Carlos Zambrano: $18.9M
Aramis Ramirez:  $14.6M
Kosuke Fukudome: $14.5M
Ryan Dempster:   $14.5M
Carlos Silva:    $12.8M
Basically, Fukudome is getting Ramirez money for Marlon Byrd hitting (which isn't that great, I'm sorry). But if the Cubs want to trade Fukudome, what can they expect to receive in return?

Well, Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors recently examined the CF market. Basically, Carl Crawford is going to decide the market. There are two legit CF free agents, Jason Werth and Coco Crisp, but about 5 or 6 teams looking for CF help. If either Boston or New York get Carl Crawford, then the whole market turns upside down. If he goes elsewhere, Kosuke Fukudome becomes one of 4 or 5 other outfielders capable of playing center field and open for trade.

The problem, as always, is his contract. Of the other potential trade targets, Fukudome is the only one making 7 digits. If the Cubs trade him, they will still probably have to eat half his contract. And who should we expect to net? His statistics since joining the Cubs have not merited his contract, and he will be 34 in 2011.

On top of that, the Cubs do not have really have a wave of prospects knocking on the door. Tyler Colvin seems to have potential, but regular PAs may very likely result in: (a) him becoming more 'exposed', decreasing his power numbers, and (b) his poor OBP really hurting the team. But even if Colvin turns out to be the real deal, there is an opening at 1B or even LF (if we ever tire of watching Alfonso Soriano injure himself on routine flies).

Behind Colvin, we have Brad Snyder -- who's 28 and has every appearance of a quad-A player. For the past few years, Snyder has hit well, but never really conquered the league.

So barring the possibility that Fukudome nets an ML-ready 1B or OF, trading him seems more like paying $7M just to play Tyler Colvin in RF.

But what are the chances Fukudome plays up to his contract in 2011? Let's examine that next.

2 comments:

  1. Brad -

    What do you think is to blame for the drop in Fukudome's statistics since he joined the Cubs? How does the talent level in NPB compare to MLB? Significantly lower? And could the difference in slugging be explained by park factors? I just can't accept that Fukudome's talent deserted him. Something happened that has robbed him of his value.

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  2. Excellent questions Eddie! I plan to address a few of those with the next post, but here's the cliff notes:

    1) The talent level in the NPB is somewhere between AAA and the majors. It's the closest you can get to the MLB, but it's still very different...

    2) ...Especially considering the stadiums. NPB stadiums are mostly homer-prone parks. Players like Fukudome and Hideki Matsui, who were power monsters in Japan, come to America and typically have just decent power.

    3) Each year with the Cubs, Fukudome has received less playing time, but his numbers have improved. We'll analyze this more in the next post, but I'm suspecting Fukudome's perception is wrongly dictating his value.

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