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Tribe Happenings: Say sayonara to Fukudome

October 23, 2011
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Fukudome's stay with the Indians was
likely a short one (Photo: AP).

Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians’ notebook…

Fukudome's future

Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome was a solid mid-season trade acquisition for the Indians. He was acquired on July 28th from the Chicago Cubs for very little compensation and he helped stabilize what at the time was a dire outfield situation because of so many injuries.

Anyone who remembers Luis Valbuena in the outfield for a few games in July and how him being out there had a direct affect on some games will immediately recall how bad the situation was in the outfield prior to Fukudome’s arrival. Fukudome ended up playing 59 games for the Indians and played solid defense in center and right field and hit .249 with five homers, 22 RBI, and .671 OPS. His overall numbers with the Indians may not have been very good, but he played better than the numbers suggest.

Some fans have expressed an interest in bringing Fukudome back to the wigwam for another season as the Indians third or fourth outfielder next season; however, there are contract stipulations which will most likely prevent the Indians from even trying to resign him this offseason. What he is actually worth and what the Indians would be forced to pay him if they resigned him prior to free agency is the big issue.

Fukudome has a unique contract in that he only has four years of Major League service time but is eligible for free agency this offseason if the Indians do not sign him to an extension prior to November 15th. Most players after four years of service time are only up for arbitration and are still under club control, but it was written into his contract when he signed his four year $48 million dollar deal with the Chicago Cubs back in 2007 that if he is not signed to an extension prior to November 15th that his team has to release him. By releasing him it would make him a free agent.

The Indians have the option to offer Fukudome arbitration, but it would be very foolish for them to do so as there would be no benefit for them to do it and they could get stuck paying him a lot of money next year. He is not a Type A or Type B free agent so if he is offered arbitration there would be no draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. If the Indians were to offer him arbitration he would likely accept as it would pay him a lot more than he will probably get this offseason via free agency.

There is also an 80% rule for players in their pre-free agent arbitration years that requires clubs not to offer anything less than 80% of the player's salary and performance bonuses the previous year or less than 70% of his salary and performance bonuses from two years earlier. Since Fukudome made $13.5 million in 2011, it would mean the lowest the Indians could pay him in 2012 would be $10.8 million which would obviously be a gross overpayment.

It is unclear if the 80% rule would apply in this case as it does not apply to free agents that are offered arbitration. It only applies to those players who are in their arbitration years prior to free agency, or in other words have service time above three years but less than six years (I know, it is confusing).

But whether or not the 80% rule applies does not even matter as Fukudome would still get a pretty sizable 2012 salary in arbitration either way if the Indians offered it to him. There is no way he is worth the risk of being forced to pay him significant money for such a low impact player, and considering there would be no compensation if offered arbitration it makes no sense to even offer it to him to begin with.

In a nutshell, do not expect the Indians to offer Fukudome arbitration nor to sign him to an extension prior to November 15th. The Indians want to upgrade the lineup with other possible solutions and they will explore all of those options extensively this offseason. If he is still unsigned come January or February and the Indians have not filled an outfield need it is possible at that time the Indians may explore resigning him. At that time he would cost much less money and for probably just one year.

Carmona decision

Outfielder Grady Sizemore and right-handed pitcher Fausto Carmona could become free agents if their 2012 club options are not picked up this offseason.

I wrote two weeks ago about why I think it is unlikely the Indians pick up Sizemore’s $9 million option, but have yet to provide any thoughts on what they might do with Carmona’s $7 million option. What the Indians ultimately do with Carmona and Sizemore will have a direct effect on what they are able to do in the free agent and trade market as their $16 million in combined salaries for 2012 could be used to fill other holes on the roster.

There is no doubt that Carmona is talented and when he is on is one of the better pitchers in the game, but the problem is he has been inconsistent throughout his career and this past season was very susceptible to the big inning. He finished the year 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA in 32 starts. Looking at his numbers and performance in 2011 it would appear he is unworthy of the $7 million in salary he will command next year.

But that may not necessarily be the case.

First off, if the Indians decline the option on Carmona they will need to sign a starter in free agency. They already lost right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco for all of next season thanks to a right elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, so they are already thin on the starting pitching front. Besides, there is not much out there to acquire and for $7 million you are going to get a pitcher with just as many warts (if not more) than Carmona.

Secondly, Carmona has been healthy the past two years and been an innings eater, something the Indians need for their rotation. For as tough a season as he had in 2011 he still pitched in 188.2 innings and in the last two seasons has averaged 200 innings.

Finally, Carmona’s contract is as team friendly as one can get. He is still under the Indians’ control for three more seasons as he has club options for the next three years with the $7 million club option for next year, $9 million club option for 2013, and $12 million club option for 2014. Considering his talent and potential and what $7 million would buy the Indians in free agency, it makes more sense to use the money on him and take the gamble that he can get back to his 2010 performance levels and also still have him under control for two more seasons.

The key is getting Carmona back to his 2010 form when he had a solid season going 13-14 with a 3.77 ERA in 33 starts, and he may not be as far away from that form as it seems. His ERA jumped considerably from 2010 to 2011, but it is misleading because of some big blow up innings this past year as his peripheral numbers were for the most part the same.

Carmona’s walk rate dropped from 3.1 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.9 BB/9 in 2011, which was a slight improvement. His strikeout rate was almost the same as it went from 5.3 K/9 in 2010 to 5.2 K/9 in 2011, and his groundball to fly ball ratio barely moved (1.30 to 1.28). The only noticeable increase in his numbers came from a modest jump in his hit rate (8.7 H/9 to 9.8 H/9) and home run rate (0.7 HR/9 to 1.0 HR/9).

Overall his numbers were not that far off from his All Star season in 2010, which suggests that if he can avoid the big blowups he had in several outings this past season he can in fact be much more like the pitcher he was in 2010. Getting him to his 2010 form would be right up the Indians’ alley and why they probably will take the gamble and pick up his option.

The decision on the club options for Sizemore and Carmona has to be made within three days of the conclusion of the World Series. Since Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for Thursday, which means by this time next week the fate of both players should be known. I still think in the end that Carmona’s option is picked up while Sizemore’s is declined but that the Indians and Sizemore continue to work on a new contract.

Explaining 40-man moves

The Indians made two moves with regard to the 40-man roster this week as they outrighted outfielder Jerad Head and right-handed pitcher Mitch Talbot off the roster. If both clear waivers - and they likely will - they can both decline the assignment to the minors and elect free agency.

Players outrighted for the first time from the 40-man roster and who clear waivers have no choice but to accept an assignment to the minors. This is what happened to both Head and Talbot earlier this year when Talbot was outrighted in late July and Head in September. Both were then added back to the 40-man roster later in September and since this is the second time they were removed they now have the option to accept the assignment to the minors and be under the Indians control in 2012 or decline it and become a free agent.

During the offseason there is always a lot of housecleaning on the 40-man roster as stalled prospects or fringe Major League players are removed so other young prospects or veteran acquisitions can be added for the next season. Several more moves to clear space on the 40-man roster are expected this offseason, though should mostly be in response to expected activity in both the free agent and trade markets.

Indians free agents

The Indians have three free agents on their roster: designated hitter Jim Thome, right-handed pitcher Chad Durbin, and Fukudome. Fukudome is technically not yet a free agent, but as outlined above he is expected to be. 

Neither of the trio Thome, Fukudome, and Durbin are expected to be resigned, though the Indians will probably keep the lines of communication open with all three players. Thome will likely not be signed by any team until January at the earliest. If he does not retire and is still available in January and February he could become an option for the Indians if designated hitter Travis Hafner has any issues with his foot or shoulder this offseason.

Arbitration eligibles

The Indians have eight players eligible for arbitration this offseason: shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, third baseman Jack Hannahan, right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson, right-handed pitcher Chris Perez, left-handed pitcher Rafael Perez, left-handed pitcher Tony Sipp, and right-handed pitcher Joe Smith.

This is the second or third go-around in arbitration for several of these players except for Hannahan and Masterson who are eligible for the first time. Reaching arbitration status is a key moment for first time eligibles as they will see sizable increases to their salary from the league minimum salaries they received the past few years. Also, Sipp is also a first time eligible as he is expected to be a Super 2 arbitration eligible player. Super 2 is a status given to players with over two years of service time but less than three years that rank in the top 17% of all two-year players in service time.

Parting shots

A few weeks ago minor league outfielder Bo Greenwell tore the ACL in his knee. He was in Arizona participating in the fall Instructional League and injured it in the first week of games. He had surgery this week to reconstruct the ACL and will spend the rest of the offseason rehabbing. … Infielder Luis Valbuena is off to a good start in winter ball in Venezuela where in eight games he is hitting .269 with no homers, two RBI and .849 OPS. … First base prospect Jesus Aguilar is putting up a good showing in the Arizona Fall League hitting .364 with three homers, eight RBI and 1.186 OPS in 11 games.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

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