The Red Sox recently traded long-time team stalwart Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Zach Stewart and utility man Brent Lillibridge.
Stewart, a 25-year-old right hander, was currently in AAA and was 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in 18 games before his demotion and has a career record of 3-8 with a 5.92 ERA in the majors.
The 28-year-old Lillibridge was hitting a measly .175 with 2 home runs but can steal bases and play every position but catcher.
Youkilis has struggled this year, hitting just .241 with 4 home runs and 16 RBI, but he is a career .287 hitter with 133 home runs and 563 RBIs.
So is this a good move for both teams? Who wins? Do the White Sox get a respected veteran to plug a hole, or is it addition by subtraction for the Red Sox?
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I don’t know if I’d call it a win-win, but neither team really lost in this deal. There was no risk and potentially a decent reward. The Red Sox paid most of Youkilis’ salary, so Chicago isn’t on the hook for a ton of money if Youkilis’ injury problems flare up again. The two guys they gave up struggled and aren’t irreplaceable. Utility guys like Lillibridge grow on trees, and it’s not hard to find right-handed pitchers. Third base has been a sinkhole for the White Sox all year. Brent Morel has had to deal with back problems, and Chicago third basemen has hit just .168 this season. According to an ESPN article, their OPS is 30 points worse that of the Nationals’ pitching staff.
To make it even worse, Chicago third basemen have produced only one home run. Even if Youkilis isn’t the player he once was, he’ll still give them much better production than that. If he gets hurt, he won’t cost the White Sox much, and anybody they find cannot possibly be worse than what they’ve received from their third basemen so far.
As for the Red Sox, losing a team leader and one of the cornerstones of their 2004 and 2007 World Series teams hurts, but the fact is that Youkilis isn’t the guy he used to be. He’s struggled to stay healthy, and his production has slipped. He’s on the downslope of his career, and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks has made him expendable. Middlebrooks is hitting .302 with 9 home runs and 36 RBI with an OBP of .337. He simply gives the Red Sox a better chance to win than does Youkilis.
The presence of Adrian Gonzalez at first and David Ortiz at DH means that there’s nowhere else for Youkilis to go. The Red Sox weren’t going to get a huge return for Youkilis, so they did the best they could. Stewart was a third-round pick, and while he has lost velocity and struggled, if he regains his form and puts it together, he could certainly help the Boston bullpen. The Red Sox were struggling with outfield depth earlier in the year, so Lillibridge helps there in the short term.
The biggest significance of this move is not on the field, but in the perceptions of baseball fans around the country. Youkilis is a veteran player whose health has and will continue to limit his utility on the field. He can provide some veteran leadership to the White Sox, but he won’t be turning their season on its ear anytime soon. Similarly, whatever ails the Red Sox won’t be cured by the addition of a couple of complimentary players.
Like I said, however, the larger impact is Youkilis’ departure from Boston, and the team that not only finally broke the Curse of the Bambino, but actually represented a mid-2000’s dynasty, has now scattered to the winds. A good hitter with decent power and an uncanny ability to get on base, Youkilis, a 33 year old 8 year veteran, has the body of a 38 year old 15 year veteran.
Youkilis was a fan favorite, and this move hasn’t gone down easy in Boston (President Obama, a White Sox fan, got booed for mentioning the trade), but, like sharks, baseball teams die the minute they stop moving forward, and while this may have been a painful addition by subtraction for Boston, it was probably necessary.