The big buzz on baseball’s rumor circuit is that long-time Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis could soon be on the move, and that the Chicago White Sox are the most likely destination. Obviously, these things tend to work out in unexpected ways, so Youkilis could easily wind up somewhere else, but I wanted to expand upon the possible scenario that involves the 33-year-old changing his socks from red to white and see what kind of impact it might have.
First of all, as we’ve already reported on Call to the Pen, Youkilis may not be the hitter he once was; he certainly isn’t at the moment, at least. For one thing, his 2012 OPS is .670, which is 163 points lower than his disappointing 2011 production and 204 points lower than his robust career figure. Granted, he’s been battling injuries for some time now. Youkilis hasn’t reached 600 plate appearances in a single season since 2009, and he’s appeared in just 41 of the team’s 70 games this year due to lingering lower-back discomfort. It’s possible this has affected the three-time All-Star’s performance, and that better things are in store for him over the rest of the season.
Then again, maybe this is who he is now. Youkilis didn’t become an everyday player until the age of 27, and it’s generally accepted that the earlier a player establishes himself, the more likely it is he will go on to have a long career. Late peaking players like Youkilis don’t often sustain their stardom for long periods of time, so it was always a pretty safe bet that he would start into his decline phase pretty early. At 33 and with an ever-growing injury history to carry around, it’s very possible Youkilis will never match his three-year production from 2008-2010 (.308/.404/.560, 148 OPS+).
Perhaps the most alarming statistic in Youkilis’s offensive profile is his walk rate. For his entire career, including those first few seasons before he truly stuck at the big league level, he’s always been something of an on-base machine. His career walk rate is at 12.4%, and it’s never dropped to single digits at any point in his major league career. That’s why the 8.7% mark for this season is so surprising; it’s understandable for Youkilis to struggle at the plate from time to time, but why the drop in walks? If he’s unable to do the thing he’s always done best, then he really won’t be the same hitter from this point on.
Then again, maybe none of this matters. After all, Youkilis was still more than useful just one season ago for Boston, producing 3.7 WAR according to FanGraphs along with a 124 OPS+ in 517 plate appearances. The track record is there, and maybe with a new setting and regular playing time, he will return to his count-working, power-hitting ways of old. There’s enough of a chance that Youkilis’s aging bat will give the the White Sox offense a jolt to make this a worthwhile trade.
Offensively, the White Sox are a team with a few holes, and third base is certainly one of them. Lately they’ve taken to putting the corpse of Orlando Hudson at the hot corner, and it hasn’t worked out too well. Actually, it’s gone terribly; O-Dawg is hitting .160/.244/.272 with the White Sox in 91 plate appearances. The player who’s received the most innings at third base this season, Brent Morel, has been even worse (.420 OPS in 125 plate appearances). Even if Youkilis is no longer capable of All-Star level production, he will most definitely offer a stabilizing influence for the position.
Finances should not come into play in a potential trade. Youkilis is owed the remainder of his $12 million for the 2012 season, and if the White Sox liked his performance in the second half, they can pay him another $13 million to keep him around in 2013. If they’re unhappy with him, it’ll only cost them $1 million to sever ties with him permanently. That’s a pretty nice deal when it comes to money. Obviously, the Red Sox may want to eat some of Youkilis’s salary if they expect to get a decent return for him. On the surface, this trade would seem to make sense, as the White Sox need another bat and the Red Sox could stand to add some pitching, at least in the starting rotation.
Now is a good time for the White Sox to make a move, as they sit just 1.5 games behind the first place Indians, a team they are probably better than even without a move. With an already fantastic starting rotation and a fortified lineup that doesn’t rely so heavily on Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, the White Sox quickly become a serious candidate to win the lackluster AL Central, especially if the potentially dangerous Tigers keep scuffling. If Youkilis fails to make an impact, the team is off the hook for him financially after the season. If he hits anywhere close to the way he did in the not-so-distant past, the Chicago lineup adds a significant threat to the middle of its order. This is a worthwhile risk that puts a team I didn’t think much of prior to the season in a good position for a strong finish.