As you no doubt know, the Red Sox dealt Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox after last night's game. Along with Youk, the Red Sox sent a tidy $5.5 million (if only I traveled that way) and received in return utility man Brent Lillibridge and pitcher Zack Stewart. It's not a name-brand filled return for the second longest tenured Red Sox and a two time World Series champion in carmine hose. Those guys don't come around every day. So the fact that the Red Sox just dealt one to Chicago's south side is a big thing.
The Sox dealt Youk (can you still call opposing players by nicknames?) for a number of reasons. Let's go down the list.
1. To make Will Middlebrooks the starter at third base
2. To get Adrian Gonzalez back to first base and remove the necessity of putting him in right field
You may notice among those reasons that the name Kevin Youkilis is absent. That's because this deal wasn't about who the Red Sox were receiving from Chicago, and it wasn't about saving money, it was about removing Kevin Youkilis's name from the roster so that those two things, Adrian Gonzalez at first and Middlebrooks at third, could be every day occurrences.
It strikes me that both of those could have been accomplished without making the trade.
This deal has been and likely will continue to be described as one that "had to be made." The narrative goes like this: Youkilis is old, he's injury-prone, he's expensive, he's not productive anymore, and his presence is preventing the Red Sox from playing Middlebrooks every day and keeping Gonzalez in right field, a position he's not accustomed to and which could be contributing to his mediocre season to date.
Hope I got all that right. Let's take those points one by one.
1. Kevin Youkilis is old.
Youk is 33 years old this year, so he's not that old. There are plenty of players his age who are well above average offensive contributors. Paul Konerko is hitting .346 with a .989 OPS this year at age 36. Carlos Beltran is 35 but he's hit 19 homers and has a .981 OPS. Closer to home, our own David Ortiz is 36, has 18 homers, and a .975 OPS. Sure, I'm cherry-picking here, but the point is that 33 isn't synonymous with done. Youk could be finished at 33 years old, but 33 isn't the death sentence it's being portrayed as.
2. Kevin Youkilis is injury-prone
He's certainly had his share of injuries over the past three years. But if we're talking a role change instead of a position change, then even if Youkilis is injury prone, that's alright for a bench guy. I mean, it's not ideal, but when a bench guy goes down, that's hardly the end of the world. He wasn't playing much anyway. Also, guys on the bench don't tend to get hurt as often because they don't tend to play as often. In fact, if you have someone who can hit but is injury prone, the bench is a pretty good place to stash them.
3. Kevin Youkilis is expensive
He is, at least in a relative sense, but that doesn't matter. The Red Sox were on the hook for his salary whether he sat on the bench, went to Triple-A, or played third base every day. Even after trading him, they're on the hook for almost all of his salary now. Trading him didn't relieve the Sox from the burden of paying Kevin Youkilis lots of money. In fact, if the Red Sox had released him, he had passed through waivers, and the White Sox had picked him up, they would be liable for $480,000. Now they're picking up $1 million. So the Red Sox saved half a million dollars off of releasing him. That's pretty much nothing. The point is they were going to be liable for his money no matter what. Trading him didn't save them anything substantial.
4. Kevin Youkilis is not productive anymore
He wasn't productive this season, that's for sure. Last year he hit .258/.373/.459 which is really pretty good, and even better considering that he played injured for a good portion of that time. Youk could have fallen off the cliff, his last injury could have been one too many for his body to take, but if he's healthy I think he hits. If he hits, even if he's 80 percent of the Kevin Youkilis of old, that has lots of value, more than is currently found on the Red Sox bench.
5. Youkilis's presence is preventing the Red Sox from playing Will Middlebrooks every day and forcing them to play Adrian Gonzalez in right field
This was the main reason to make the trade, to get Youkilis out of the starting lineup. In the emotion of the moment, I wonder if maybe we missed that the Red Sox could take Youk out of the lineup for as long as they wanted for as long as they wanted to. Youk's presence on the team doesn't require him playing every day or even at all. If there were better players, they should play and Youk should sit and it's incumbent on the Red Sox to make that situation as tenable as possible.
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It comes down to your answer to this question: do you think Kevin Youkilis is done as a productive player? If so, this is a fine deal. It saves a little bit of cash, maybe enough to help facilitate a deadline deal, and brings something (though not much) back in return for a player who wasn't capable of helping you anyway. But, if you think there's a chance Kevin Youkilis can still be Kevin Youkilis, or even a diminished version of his All Star self, than why would you ever make this trade? Brent Lillibridge is effectively redundant. Zack Stewart is a fine Triple-A arm, but nothing you'd give up anything of value to get. Saving $2 million over two years is hardly going to allow the Red Sox to open up the purse strings. Every little bit helps, but it's doubtful this will have much effect on the Red Sox ability to acquire players either at the deadline or during the off-season.
No, this was about removing Youkilis so the Red Sox could play Middlebrooks and Gonzalez, two things they could have done anyway. What's more, the team has lost it's insurance policy. Should anything happen to Middlebrooks the Red Sox will be looking at long stretches of Nick Punto at third base. If anything befalls Gonzalez, the Red Sox will be left with Lars Anderson at first.
The one thing I can't know is how things were playing in the clubhouse. I'm sure Youkilis wasn't happy with his diminished role and he would have been even less happy with a permanent (as much as these things can be) bench role. Maybe it really was an untenable situation. But I feel like that sells both Youk and Bobby Valentine short. Both are professionals and are paid lots of money to win baseball games for the Boston Red Sox. If that means sitting on the bench, if that means communicating with your players, then that's what should happen. If that means having the best and deepest team you can have, that's why those guys make the money they do.
With Youk, the Red Sox had depth. Now they don't. They're vulnerable to injury, and they've dealt a potentially important player to a playoff competitor. What's more, they threw their away for... I don't want to say nothing, but just a few rungs up from that. This deal took a position of strength and turned it into a weakness. The team is weaker now than it was yesterday. That might be the saddest part of all.