Authored by Andrew Perna - 25th June, 2012 - 9:13 pm
After a few days of consternation, the Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox on Sunday afternoon. Chicago had been rumored to be the most likely destination for Youkilis, who needed a change of scenery, something few could have foreseen this past winter.
Boston acquired utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart for Youkilis, but more importantly they have removed some drama from the clubhouse and the White Sox have agreed to take on a good chunk of his remaining salary.
Youkilis, 33, was an eighth-round pick of the Red Sox out of Cincinnati in 2001. Less than three years later, he made his major league debut when then-starting third baseman Bill Mueller went on the disabled list. Sound familiar?
He homered in his second at-bat. In 953 games with Boston, he hit .287/.388/.487 with 133 home runs and 564 RBI.
Injuries have hampered Youkilis, a three-time All-Star, hurting his production in the process. After playing in at least 145 games from 2006-2008, he appeared in 136 in 2009 and then missed a combined 102 games over the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
He missed close to three weeks in May with a back injury and that allowed Will Middlebrooks to burst onto the scene. The 23-year-old is hitting .326/.365/.583 since a promotion on May 2 and without his mature play at the plate and on the field, the Red Sox cannot afford to part with Youkilis.
Middlebrooks could very well hit the rookie wall at some point this season, but he has not slowed down lately. In June, he is hitting .347/.404/.592 in 49 at-bats.
The Red Sox have been criticized for not getting more in return for Youkilis, but there is no guarantee he will be with Chicago for more than a few months. His contract includes a $13 million team option for 2013 that does not seem to be a prudent investment unless he has a massive return to form.
In addition, Ben Cherington was able to save $5.5 million over the remainder of the season, which has been a disappointment despite a recent hot streak (eight wins in 10 games). The Red Sox entered action Monday in fourth place, more than five games back of the first-place Yankees and with more talent on the disabled list than most clubs put on the field.
This is not the first change Cherington has made, but it will stand as his legacy for the time-being. While the drop in front-office support and production was precipitous, Youkilis was a huge reason why the Red Sox were successful in the mid-to-late 2000s. He leaves behind David Ortiz as the only remaining member of the 2004 World Series champions. Having been on that curse-ending team, he will forever have a place in Boston lore.
No matter the sentimental ties, the move had to be made and should not be second-guessed.
Grade for Red Sox: B+
Youkilis, once known throughout baseball as "The Greek God of Walks," has seen his on-base percentage drop each season from a peak of .413 in 2009. This season, he has an OBP of just .315 -- he had a batting average of .312 in 2008 -- and nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks.
As if reduced plate discipline was not enough, the corner infielder is not hitting with as much power either. His slugging percentage peaked at .569 in 2008, but it has dropped all the way down to .377 this season. He is averaging more than 36 at-bats between home runs. From 2008-2010, he never averaged more than 19 ABs without a dinger.
The White Sox and Youkilis are both counting on the belief that injuries and discontent had more to do with his decline in production than age or a diminished skill set.
Grade for White Sox: B+
If that turns out to be the case, this trade could be a steal for Chicago. Youkilis tripled in his last at-bat with the Red Sox and received an emotional send-off from the Fenway faithful as he was removed for a pitch runner. Perhaps that is a sign of things to come. Perhaps it is not.
Judgment should be held for a few weeks, as Youkilis might see an initial post-trade surge. He is a proud man and has been described often as a player "with a chip on his shoulder."
Regardless of how he plays with Chicago, it will not be long before he returns to Boston. The White Sox will play four games at Fenway from July 16-19.
The reality is that he will likely fall somewhere in the middle of what we have come to expect and how he has played as of late. He is not likely to hit as poorly as he did in limited duty this spring, but we should not saddle him with unlikely expectations either.
Youkilis is no longer the embodiment of Moneyball, but that does not mean he cannot be a production player that helps a team in a pennant race.