|Youk departs with a final curtain call to the Fenway Faithful|
Like Carlton Fisk three decades before him, another gritty, tenured team leader has traded in his Sox.
In return, Boston receives Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart. I'll freely admit that I had never heard of either one, and after doing some research on baseball-reference I doubt many other Red Sox fans knew much about this pair of scrubs either. Lillibridge is a 28 year-old super-utility guy who's played all the infield positions (minus pitcher and catcher) as well as the outfield, so he's a versatile reserve to have on the bench. Given the myriad injuries that have plagued the Red Sox this year, Bobby Valentine can use him to plug numerous leaks while the team gets healthier. His career batting line is an unimpressive .214/.282/.357 in 524 career at-bats, not surprising given that he strikes out more than four times per every walk, though in 97 games last year he hit a solid .258/.340/.505, good for a 123 OPS+, with 13 home runs and ten steals.
Stewart, a 25 year-old sophomore, was a starter last year but pitched terribly, as his 5.88 ERA and 1.60 WHIP indicate. This marks the third time he's been dealt in the past three calendar years; he was drafted by the Reds in '08 but they traded him, along with Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Roenicke, to the Blue Jays for Scott Rolen at the '09 trade deadline. Two summers later, after making just three starts for Toronto, he and Jason Frasor were sent packing to the Windy City for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen. Following eight more abysmal starts with the White Sox, who really had nothing to lose as they played out the string of a losing season, he was converted to a relief pitcher. Coming out of the bullpen this season hasn't boosted his performance, though; his ERA and WHIP are an even 6.00 and 1.50, respectively. He hardly walks anybody--just two batters per nine innings for his career and 1.2 this season--but the lack of free passes doesn't mean he has good control. Stewart makes way too many mistakes and is extremely susceptible to the long ball, has already given up ten in thirty innings this year. He doesn't miss bats (5.6 career K/9 rate) and his pitches are very hittable (12.1 H/9 rate). In my mind he's not worthy of a major league roster spot, especially not in the AL East where you need to squeeze contributions out of all 25 players.
But that's what you get when you sell low on an injured, struggling 33 year-old to a first place team that doesn't want to part with any important pieces. White Sox GM Kenny Williams couldn't even throw in a player to be named later or a bag of balls. Still, I find it hard to believe that was the most a three-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion who was playing at an MVP level as recently as 2010 could fetch in a trade. What Boston really needs, even if Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz were healthy, is starting pitching, something the White Sox could have supplied (although Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that they are still looking to add a starter). I would have much rather seen Cherington get a John Danks, Gavin Floyd, or Philip Humber, who have all been pretty bad this season but have proven themselves to be solid options at times in the past. And while it's neither here nor there, I'm still fuming over the fact that he didn't aggressively pursue the very affordable Edwin Jackson last winter or sign Roy Oswalt when he had the chance. Instead he went out and got us Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Thanks a lot.
There was no doubt Youkilis had to go. 23 year-old Middlebrooks (.307/.341/.558) is clearly the future. Even if his 41/8 K/BB rate hints that regression is going to strike sooner rather than later, I think he'll be a fixture at third in Beantown for years to come (keeping my fingers scrossed that he's not a flash in the pan like Kevin Maas, Chris Shelton, and about a million other big leaguers). If only the team had committed to their young star sooner, they could have parted ways with Youkilis when they cleaned house last winter, when he had more value. This spring he was victimized of a perfect storm engendered by his slump/back injury/DL stint, Will Middlebrooks' tearing the cover off the ball, Valentine questioning his commitment (totally uncalled for), a struggling Red Sox team and a trigger happy GM desperate to make a move, factors that all conspired to push him out the door. His own attitude played a role as well, since he's much too competitive to accept a bench role this early in his career. He was clearly unhappy splitting time with Middlebrooks at third, and the last thing this Red Sox team needs is another malcontent stewing in the dugout. The timeshare wasn't working out, anyways, as it forced Adrian Gonzalez to play rightfield at times, which may have contributed to his prolonged slump.
I believe this is a great deal for the White Sox, who have nothing to lose in this trade, especially not with incumbent third basemen Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson combining to produce just one home run and 16 RBI . They don't have to worry about Lillibridge and Stewart blossoming into stars, and best case scenario the trade lights a fire under Youk, regular playing time helps him get back in a groove, and he's a productive hitter for them. Even if his struggles persist, he's a great clubhouse guy to have during the dog days of August, someone to keep the troops motivated. It's easy to get complacent over the course of a 162 game season, so it's nice to have somebody like Youkilis who treats every at-bat like it's life-or-death. Buyer beware; Youkilis has always been much better in the first half and tends to fade down the stretch. His .905 OPS before the All-Star break is 86 points higher than it is after the break. I'm confident Youk will turn his season around, though. From this point forward I'd expect ten home runs, 40 RBI and a .270-ish batting average. Not the Kevin Youkilis of old, but still plenty valuable. He will contribute, even if it's only by taking pitches, working counts, and drawing walks.
Youkilis certainly can't complain about the deal. He gets his starting gig back, and won't have to worry about losing playing time next time he endures another rough spell. Manager Robin Ventura has been batting him second, a cushy spot in front of Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, so he'll have plenty of opportunities to score runs. The White Sox are on top of the AL Central while the Red Sox are tied with Tampa Bay for third in the AL Beast. So it's possible he's jumping off a sinking ship and landing in a lifeboat headed for the postseason. He's even moving from one hitter's haven to another, though in 20 career games at the Cell (small sample size) he owns a paltry .234/.341/.390 batting line. Oh, and he won't have to deal with the rabid Red Sox fan base and ever-present media.
So now I'll take a look back at his career in Boston, a nice run that came full circle-he was called up back in May of '04 to replace an injured Bill Mueller. Eight years later he found himself replaced by Middlebrooks, who'd filled in for him when he spent three weeks on the all-too-familiar Disabled List.
-Batting eighth, he went yard in his first major league game on May 15th, 2004 off 1996 Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen of the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a fourth inning solo shot that gave the first-place Red Sox a 3-0 lead. Mark Bellhorn and Big Papi also provided solo blasts.
-Was named AL Rookie of the Month for May, 2004 despite playing just thirteen games. He batted .318/.446/.477 with 15 runs scored
-On August 8th, 2005, Youkilis teamed up with Adam Stern and Gabe Kapler to set the AL record for most Jewish players on the field at one time
-It may surprise you that Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, had just one season (2006) with more than 80 free passes. He never led the league in on-base percentage, but did finish second behind MVP Joe Mauer in 2009.
-In 2006 he led the major leagues in sacrifice flies with eleven
-His 2007 Gold Glove was well-deserved; he didn't commit a single error at first base. In fact, he set the record for most consecutive errorless games by a first baseman, a run that spanned 238 games from 2006 through '08.
-Started the 2008 All-Star Game at first, becoming just the sixth Red Sock and the first since Mo Vaughn to do so. Was also named to the team as a reserve in 2009 and 2011. 2008 was his career year- he set personal bests with 168 hits, 43 doubles, 29 home runs, 115 RBI, .312 average, .569 slugging percentage, and 306 total bases. He fwon the AL Hank Aaron Award (Aramis Ramirez was the NL recipient) finished third in the MVP race behind Dustin Pedroia and Justin Morneau, but he and Morneau were the only ones named on every ballot.
-Has a career .306/.376/.568 line in the postseason
-Was a .303/.399/.509 hitter at Fenway, .271/.376/.464 everywhere else.
-Another strange home/road split; at Fenway he was successful in just seven of 18 stolen base attempts (38.9 percent success rate) but on the road was a sterling 19 of 22 (86.4 percent success rate).
-Youk was never very durable. From 2006 through 2011, his six full seasons as an everyday player for Boston, he missed an average of 30 games per year. He has never played more than 147 games in any given season, and probably never will.
-Has a knack for coming through with men on base, and the statistics back it up. Always rises to the occassion with men on base. Is batting .325/.434/.552 for his career with runners in scoring position, and then ompare that to .255/.349/.420 when the bases are empty.
-Most similar player according to baseball-reference is former teammate Trot Nixon, who spent ten years in a Red Sox uniform. Other similar players include Andre Ethier, Nick Markakis, Ryan Zimmerman
So long, Youk, and farewell. We'll miss you.