It came as little to no surprise that on Wednesday the Chicago White Sox declined the $13 million option on first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis. 2012 was a struggle for Youkilis both mentally and physically, as had trouble staying on the field during the early part of the season and then had to deal with a media battle with former manager Bobby Valentine and his eventual trade from Boston to Chicago.
All and all, that resulted is a disappointing season that saw Youkilis hit a career low .235 with 19 home runs, 60 RBI, and a .745 OPS.
By declining their option on Youkilis, the White Sox are allowing him to explore free agency. While the White Sox will maintain tabs on the 34-year-old Youkilis, there is another team that could likewise do that same.
The Boston Red Sox.
Now, Boston jettisoned Youkilis because of both the rise of Will Middlebrooks, who will most definitely be the starting third baseman for the Red Sox when camp breaks at the end of March, and due to his mercurial relationship with Bobby Valentine, who himself was sacked at the end of the season. However, things have changed a bit in Boston since Youk was voted off the island.
For one, Bobby Valentine is gone, which was more than justified by his struggles to work with his players. Secondly, the team traded Adrian Gonzalez, along with Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles, opening up a spot at first base in 2013.
It just so happens that Youkilis was a Gold Glove (for what its been proven worth) first baseman with the Red Sox in 2007, prior to making the shift back over to third base to make room for Gonzalez. Is it absolutely out of the question to envision the Red Sox bringing back Youkilis on a club-friendly deal and sticking him at first base, either as a starter or in a platoon? Not at all. The option of Youkilis at first base is tremendously more appealing to the bringing back James Loney or any of the other available free agents.
Youkilis was a .287 career hitter for Boston prior to 2012, so one would have to envision that he is capable of a rebound season. Putting him in a position that would be less stressful on his back and knees would surely aid in that. Even if Youkilis was only able to approximate his 2011 season, where he put together a slash line of .258/.373/.833, that would be more than serviceable for the coming season.
Regardless of his relationship with Valentine, Youk was also a fan favorite with a reputation of being a gutty player who left it all out on the field. Any contract with Youkilis would still be at a reasonable enough rate that it would not prevent the club from making other moves or deterring from the rebuilding path they are currently on.
There will be some naysayers who believe Youkilis’s role as one of the malcontents on the team should prevent him from being a part of the immediate future of the club. However, in a season ruled by malcontents, both in the line-up and in the coach’s office, it is tough to saddle him for life with that label.
This team has made much poorer decisions than this.