Around the conclusion of today’s Brave-Red Sox and Brewers-White Sox games, word was beginning to get around that Kevin Youkilis, the former All-Star corner infielder had been traded to Chicago for Brett Lillibridge and Zach Stewart. Reports of the trade have become even more widespread, so with Youkilis apparently done in Boston and on his way to Chicago, let’s take a look at the 1st big trade of the 2012 season.
In acquiring Kevin Youkilis the White Sox have filled one of their biggest areas of need, 3rd base. Youkilis has struggled this season with injury and poor performance, hitting only .225/.311/.359 with 4 homers and 13 RBI in 41 total games. Youkilis has been in steady decline over the past year and a half, hitting 30 points below his career average, while displaying very little power to any field.
Youkilis’ best skill has always been his excellent ability to get on base (.388 career OBP/major league average this season is .319), but if he’s not hitting the ball with authority, the walks, which are a lifeblood to Youkilis’ game, will dry up, as they have this season. The average major league player draws a walk in 8.5% of his at-bats. Throughout his career in Boston, Youkilis has been one of the elite batters in baseball at earning a free pass, walking 12.4% of the time he comes to the plate. This season he’s walking at the worst rate of his career (8.7%), which could be a big problem in Chicago. The White Sox have a lineup that should provide a similar amount of protection and support, like in Boston, and U.S. Cellular Park is normally hitter friendly, so if Youkilis can’t get it going in Chicago we may never again see the player he was from 2008-2010.
Luckily for him, the pressure to perform won’t be as high as it was in Boston, because Chicago’s 3rd base alternatives this season have been awful. The White Sox started the year with Brent Morel slated to get the lion’s share of the playing time only to see him bat .177/.225/.195 in his first 125 plate appearances before hitting the DL with a back injury. The Sox then picked up Orlando Hudson near the end of May, but he’s been awful as well hitting only .167 in over 80 at-bats. Even if Youkilis continues to play as poorly as he already has, it still going to be an upgrade over the corpses the White Sox have tried at 3rd thus far this season.
From Boston’s perspective this trade is more about clearing a path for the future (Will Middlebrooks), while still staying competitive in the present. Middlebrooks has completely outperformed Youkilis this season, blasting the ball for a .331/.368/.592 triple slash that makes the veteran look like a minor leaguer. The youngster is a bit of a butcher while playing in the field, but anyone who swings a bat with this kind of power at age 23 deserves a chance to play everyday.
Coupled with the additions of Lillibridge, a very capable defensive player who will provide some much needed outfield depth for a group that has been severely depleted, and Stewart, a potential bullpen arm for a unit that sorely needs some good ones, the Red Sox may be slightly improved. Middlebrooks will now get all the playing time he needs to grow into an everyday major leaguer, and may even make a run at the AL Rookie of the Year award if Mike Trout doesn’t run away with it. Frankly its a case of addition by subtraction for Boston, and a good move for both franchises as long as the notoriously fragile Youkilis can stay healthy.
One final takeaway from the trade is that it occurred between two teams with identical 38-34 records, who could figure to challenge each other for a Wild Card spot, provided the White Sox, who are now a half game up in their division, fall short in their bid to win the AL Central. Its rare to see two franchises in direct competition with each other trade parts, so it will be especially interesting to see who gets the upper hand in this deal in 2012. This trade could be the difference between one of these ball clubs playing in October.