"No matter who or what is in front of me, my mindset is just to go out there and play hard every day," said Kouzmanoff. "I play every day as though it were my last day. I always say to myself, `I'm not good enough. I can always improve. I can always get better.' I'm never satisfied. That has always been a part of my thought process."
The Tribe, who had a big hole at second base, filled it without subtracting from their major league roster or adding significant payroll and received one of the most highly valued commodities in baseball today, a talented young player who will be under their control for the next five years.
Why would the Padres make this trade?
A couple of reasons.
It fills a hole at third base with the type of hitter the Padres have envisioned they want for PETCO, a big right-handed hitter who can yank the ball down the left field line.
Secondly, and this is as big a factor as any, he's a lot cheaper than any of the other options the Padres were thinking about, such as Aramis Ramirez and the $10 million-plus payday that he was seeking.
Kouzmanoff, 25, had a very good year, which by now most Padres' fans are aware off, hitting .389/.449/.660 at Double-A Akron and .353/.409/.667 at Triple-A Buffalo.
Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo says there is much more to Kouzmanoff than what people see on the field.
"For me, the thing that makes Kevin special is what nobody sees," Lovullo said. "People see him hitting nearly .400 on offense, and they see him hitting home runs and driving the ball and making good plays on defense.
"But what I get to see is what is inside these clubhouse walls. It's a guy who is passionate about baseball. It's an intense competitor who has a strike-first attitude. He wants to attack you before you even think about jumping on him. He has a championship mentality. "
Lovullo says there isn't a day that goes by that Kouzmanoff gives anything less than his best.
"People use the word ‘gamer.' They say a gamer comes to play every day. There's a lot to be said about gamers. Some guys come to play almost every day. Kevin Kouzmanoff is ready to go from the minute he walks into the clubhouse. This guy just wants to bury the opposition."
He has good size, 6-foot-1, 200-pounds and there is little doubt he can hit. The big questions are will his back and his defense hold up at third base. In 2005, he missed most of the season with back and hamstring issues and many in the Indians' organization have doubts about his ability to stay at third from both a health and ability standpoint in the future.
"I would say his injury set him back six to eight weeks," Indians director of minor league operations John Farrell said. "Lower back work will be critical to his durability.
"It was a major interruption to a very productive year and derailed his planned promotion to Akron at the middle of the season. It would never really clear up to where he was able to gain complete mobility and freedom of his low back. Any time you talk athlete and low back, there is concern."
Andrew Brown, 25, has great size at 6-foot-6 and an above average fastball that sits between 92-95 MPH, along with a good slider. The only problem is Brown has had some arm problems. Tommy John surgery in 2000 and an elbow problem which forced him to sit out the entire 2003 season, making projection somewhat cloudy.
In 2006, he was 5-4 with a 2.60 ERA in Buffalo, allowing 52 hits in 62.1 innings pitched. The big warning signal with Brown is a rather high 36/53 walk-to-strikeout ratio, but the talent is there.
So why were the Padres willing to part with Barfield?
First and foremost, they believe that it is easier to fill a hole at second compared to third and the team's need for a leadoff man, something the Padres need to acquire, with the desire to add power into the outfield for 2007.
"Kevin is as good a hitter as we had when it comes to knowing his hitting range," Lovullo said. "He has great recognition of his hitting setup. He has a quiet, compact setup without much movement. It's an almost slump-free approach wherein he is going to put the bat on the ball a great deal of the time.
"He will have some swing-and-miss moments, but for the most part he is thinking baseball, he is watching the pitchers. He understands how he is being pitched to and how he is being set up and he has the ability to counter-punch any pitcher. He understands his swing and how to hit different pitches in different zones."
In some ways Josh Barfield, 23, had a very good year. A .280 batting average, 32 doubles, 21 stolen bases and solid work defensively at second base. There were other aspects of his game the team believes that it can replace, a .318 OBP, a .241 batting average at home and an OPS of .773.
Barfield's greatest strength is driving runners in. It was his calling card in the minors where he led the Southern and California Leagues in RBI's for consecutive years. He's a solid player, but the team also needs to address its needs for a leadoff hitter – something that is not his strength.
From the Indians point of view this is a great trade, dealing a surplus prospect to address a major league void and acquire a young player with five years left on his six year window. Jacob's Field is a much better place to hit than PETCO and Barfield could have a very big year with the bat in Cleveland.
For the Padres it's really too early to evaluate the trade until we find out what the plan is for second base. Yet, the real measure or success of the trade will be what Kouzmanoff does this year. If he can stay healthy and prove that he can handle the defensive demands at third, it may be a better trade than most people believe.
"I think I've gotten better at third base and can make the everyday routine plays," said Kouzmanoff.
Chuck Murr contributed to this story.