CLEVELAND -- Mere days into the Hot Stove season, the Indians have addressed one of their most glaring holes. The Tribe acquired 23-year-old second baseman Josh Barfield from the Padres on Wednesday in exchange for infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff and reliever Andrew Brown. Barfield, a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League this season, gives the Indians some much-needed speed and fills the gap at a position that lacked an everyday presence since the July 30 trade of Ronnie Belliard to the Cardinals.
"He satisfies one of our biggest offseason needs, not only as a short-term fit, but also a potential long-term fit," general manager Mark Shapiro said of Barfield. "He already has a year of service under his belt, and he has the upside that often comes with young players. He's a good defender and is a guy that has a lot of upside potential with his bat. He's a great teammate, hard worker, and he complements our existing core of players really well." Barfield, the son of former Blue Jays and Yankees outfielder and 1986 American League home run champ Jesse Barfield, made his Major League debut Opening Day in '06. He went on to hit .280 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs for the NL West champs and finished second among big-league rookies with 21 stolen bases. When initially informed of the trade, Barfield was shocked. But he soon warmed up to the idea of playing in Jacobs Field. "I had no idea I was even being considered to be traded," he said. "It took me by surprise. It's starting to sink in now, and I'm realizing it's going to be a better situation for me." Better in the sense that he won't have to play home games in mammoth PETCO Park anymore. In '06, he hit .241 at home and .319 on the road. His road average was the third-highest among NL batters. As far as his overall numbers are concerned, Barfield feels he has room to improve. "I was a little disappointed with my final numbers," he said. "I came in with pretty big expectations. Everybody tells you you're going to have your ups and downs. I definitely feel I'm capable of doing better than what I put up last year." Defensively, Barfield made nine errors in 684 chances over 147 games, and the Padres were reportedly encouraged by his increased awareness in the field. "Right now, this guy is a solid to average Major League defender," Shapiro said. "He makes the pivot very well. With his work ethic, I think he has a chance to improve. I think you have a chance to see a little better than average range and athleticism." The Indians made the second-base vacancy their top offseason priority. Joe Inglett and Hector Luna shared the position after the Belliard trade, but both players are considered utility men. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Barfield will provide more stability, and, as a right-handed hitter, could possibly be slotted into the No. 2 spot of the lineup, between Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, both lefties. Manager Eric Wedge might see fit to stick Barfield in the bottom of the order, where he could set up RBI opportunities for Sizemore. Barfield does need to improve his plate discipline, as he notched 81 strikeouts in '06, against just 30 walks. After watching shortstop Jhonny Peralta struggle in his sophomore season, the Indians are aware that second-year players -- especially those changing leagues -- could be exposed to some challenges. "Any guy that only has one year in is going to have some volatility in performance," Shapiro said. "With younger players, there's always going to be some ups and downs and spikes in their performance. Adding in a change in leagues could make the normal transition a little more difficult. But if we're patient, this guy's talent and work ethic are going to see him through, and he's going to be a very good Major League player." In trading the 25-year-old Kouzmanoff, the Indians are dealing from a position of depth. Kouzmanoff's primary position is third base, where the Indians expect top prospect Andy Marte to start next season. During the Arizona Fall League, Kouzmanoff has been playing first base, but that spot will likely go to some combination of Ryan Garko, Casey Blake and Victor Martinez in '07. Kouzmanoff tore up Minor League pitching this past season, batting .379 between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. As a September callup to the Tribe, he made Major League history on Sept. 2 in Texas, becoming the first player to hit a grand slam on the first big-league pitch he ever saw. Last month, he was named the winner of the organization's Lou Boudreau Award, given annually to the top position player in the Minor League system. "Kouz is going to be a very good Major League hitter and Major League player," Shapiro said. "We like him, and we're going to miss him." Brown was the player to be named in the 2004 trade that sent Milton Bradley to the Dodgers. The Indians turned him into a reliever in the Minor Leagues, and he went 5-4 with five saves and a 2.60 ERA in 39 appearances for the Bisons. With the Indians, seven of his nine outings were scoreless, and he held batters to a .171 average. Brown was out of Minor League options, so the Indians had to make a decision on his future. "I had a feeling, because of the situation, with the Indians having a lot of young arms and me being out of options, that something might happen," Brown said. "I'm pretty pumped up. It's a good organization and city. It's a nice opportunity for me." Though the Indians received an everyday player for two unproven commodities, Shapiro wasn't quick to call the trade a no-brainer. Still, he was no doubt excited about the acquisition. "We gave up a lot," Shapiro said. "We gave up players we liked. No trade is an easy trade. But it's a player we're very happy to get."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.