Cleveland Indians GM Mark Antonetti didn’t come out and say as much, but Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer connected the dots and determined that free agent Kevin Youkilis would fill a need, or a few needs, with the Tribe.
The first thing that jumps out is Youkilis’ history with new Indians manager Terry Francona. Youk played under Tito from 2004-2011 in Boston, winning a pair of World Championships together. There isn’t much chance for uniting for a third on the shores of Lake Erie, at least not anytime soon, but Youkilis would make the Indians a better club right away.
Cleveland is in dire need of a right handed bat, which Youkilis happens to provide. They need a first baseman or a third baseman, or even a designated hitter. Youkilis has extensive experience at both corner infield positions and could even play left field (another problem area for the Tribe) in a pinch.
If it’s such a perfect fit, why shouldn’t the two sides come to a deal?
Well, even though Youkilis is on the downside of his career, he’s still the best third baseman on the open market. That says more about the market than it does about Youkilis, however. Nevertheless, it’s likely that Youk will get a multi-year deal and could find someone willing to give him $8-10 million per year. That kind of money might ordinarily price him out of Cleveland, but with Francona on board, you wonder if the Dolan family will be reaching a little deeper into their pockets than they have in years past.
There is also the matter of the club needing to decide what direction they are going. Cleveland is getting bombarded with phone calls from rival clubs asking about most of the Indians’ top players. Asdrubal Cabrera would be the best available shortstop should Antonetti decide to shop the switch-hitter. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and starter Justin Masterson are both known to be coveted by the Red Sox and one can assume many other clubs as well. Closer Chris Perez is also certain to draw trade interest.
All of those players are still well within the primes of their careers and, apart from Perez, a trade would surely signal another rebuild for the Tribe. Perez is likely to be dealt either way after many public comments that disparaged the team and the fans.
No matter the level of interest, I can’t imagine Francona would have signed on to a complete rebuild, so unless there are offers that simply cannot be refused, I’d have to think Antonetti plans to keep all or most of his better major league players. A signing of Youkilis would seem to reinforce that idea as well, as Youk will have suitors closer to contention.