Red Sox Ship Out Kevin Youkilis

It happened so quickly. One moment, Kevin Youkilis was sprinting to third. In the next, the Fenway faithful were demanding a curtain call, and in the next, he was a member of the White Sox. Three months ago, this scenario would have been hard to predict, let alone imagine. It has become reality thanks to the play of Will Middlebrooks, who will immediately replace Youkilis at the hot corner for the Red Sox. For weeks, Boston has done their best to try to keep both Youkilis and Middlebrooks in the lineup together, but with the team’s outfield stabilizing that became tougher to do over the past week, and a solution had to be found. No one is going to mistake the deal the team struck — eating most of Youkilis’ salary and receiving fading prospect Zach Stewart along with utility man Brent Lillibridge — as a home run, but the return wasn’t really the point. Boston already has a great team on the field (don’t look now, but Boston has the fourth-best run differential in the Majors), and this trade allows the roster to fit more naturally, with the potential to get a good pitcher being a fringe benefit.

When Youkilis landed on the disabled list at the start of May with lower-back pain, Middlebrooks stepped into the fray. While he had hit well in the Minors, no one expected him to come in and compile a 146 wRC+ in May. Sure, people knew about Middlebrooks — Marc Hulet ranked him second on Boston’s top 15 prospect list this spring — but even with his great 2011 season, the third baseman entered 2012 with a career line of .271/.329/.443 in 1,666 PA. To suddenly be hitting .329/.371/.620 this season, with the majority of that line coming in the Majors, has been otherworldly.

And there may be some cause for concern there. While Middlebrooks has a history of posting high BABIP’s, his LD/GB/FB numbers are essentially league average, while his BABIP is decidedly higher. At this point, Middlebrooks’ .380 BABIP is 59 points higher than his .321 xBABIP. The 23-year old has always been a bit of a hacker as well, and while his plate discipline has improved this month, his 0.22 BB/K puts him in the bottom 30 out of anyone with at least 150 plate appearances. In addition, about one out of every five fly balls he hits is sailing over the fence — his 23.7% HR/FB places him 13th in baseball, a hair behind Trevor Plouffe. But while these underlying factors may point to some regression on the horizon, his performance so far cannot be denied.

Yesterday, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington plainly stated, “Middlebrooks needs to be in the lineup, that’s pretty clear.” Manager Bobby Valentine has seen and said the same, and before this weekend, he had gone to the trouble of reworking the lineup to keep Middlebrooks in it. On 16 occasions, Valentine moved the team’s $154 million man, Adrian Gonzalez, out to right field in order to play both Middlebrooks and Youkilis simultaneously after Youkilis returned from the DL. But that couldn’t continue forever. For one thing, Gonzalez is no right fielder. You don’t need advanced stats to tell you that that experiment wasn’t going to be viable long-term. Second, the team’s outfield is starting to take shape.

At some point, Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury will return to the Red Sox lineup. In their absence, eight other players have started at least five games in Boston’s outfield, and only now — following injuries to Scott Podsednik and Ryan Sweeney, the return of Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald and Cody Ross and the release of Marlon Byrd — is the outfield crystallizing. For just the first time all season, this past week saw manager Bobby Valentine play the same outfield combo — Daniel Nava in left, Kalish in center and Ross in right — for four consecutive games. McDonald may spell Kalish against lefties, and Sweeney figures to work into the lineup when he returns, but for now, this seems like the Boston outfield. And with good reason. Nava has an even bigger BABIP-xBABIP gulf than does Middlebrooks, but his plate discipline has improved a great deal since 2010, and the early returns on his defense are encouraging as well. Ross has been likewise tearing the cover off the ball — he is third on the team in homers despite being seventh in plate appearances. And while Kalish hasn’t shown good results quite yet, the potential is there. All of which means that the time for shoehorning Gonzalez into the outfield had come to an end. Something had to give, and it did with Youkilis’ trade.

To start with, it would be unfair to judge Boston’s return through the prism of Youkilis being locked up for next season. While he does have a $13 million club option for 2013, the fact that the Red Sox picked up the lion’s share of the money in the deal shows that this is a one-year rental for Chicago. As such, the return has to be viewed as one commensurate with a one-year rental. And a one-year rental of a player with injury concerns and a .307 wOBA isn’t going to fetch much. Both Lillibridge and Stewart can be described as somewhere between project and flier.

Lillibridge would represent the latter. The 28-year old had a breakout 2011 campaign, but he has changed his approach this year, and it has not been pretty. He has gone from a 0.64 GB/FB to a 1.82 mark this season, and his ISO and HR/FB have plummeted as a result. Always a free swinger, he has been challenged in the zone more this season — he has started 0-1 68.6% of the time, which is the 15th-highest percentage among those with at least 70 plate appearances. He has exactly 70 PA on the season, and he doesn’t figure to play much more frequently with the Red Sox, unless more injuries occur. But he can contribute all over the diamond, as he has started games this season at first base, third base, left field and center field, and he started at second and in right last season as well. Until he improves his plate discipline, he won’t have much of a place in Boston, but given his past success — albeit brief — he could be an interesting player.

Stewart though is the real key, and represents the “project” portion of the deal. While his results at the Major League level have not been pretty, either in Toronto or Chicago, he is a former top prospect. The Sox have had luck in rebuilding Franklin Morales’ career, and while Stewart doesn’t have Morales’ velocity, he does have excellent control. And there are rays of hope in his poor start to the season as well — his xFIP- is 104. Obviously, he won’t be of much service if he keeps coughing up gopher balls at his current rate, but should that correct itself, the Sox may have a useful arm on their hands.

One of the great what-if’s to this Red Sox season will undoubtedly be, “what if Youkilis doesn’t need to go on the DL?” If he doesn’t, perhaps Middlebrooks doesn’t reach the Majors until later in the season — maybe not even until September — and Youkilis stays with the team through the end of the season. But he did need the time on the DL, and in the interim, Middlebrooks made himself an indispensable member of the team. The Red Sox didn’t exactly get a grade-A return for him, but then they didn’t need one. Boston already has its replacement for Youkilis in house, and even though Middlebrooks is unlikely to sustain his early pace, he figures to be a solid player for the Sox for the foreseeable future, and one who needs to be on the field in order to continue to develop. Combine his play with better play from the team’s outfield, and there really was just no way to get Youkilis consistent at-bats. While dealing Youkilis may be a blow for the team emotionally, it gives the roster a much cleaner alignment. If the team is able to get better results from Lillibridge and Stewart that will be icing on the cake.



Print This Post



Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 years 3 months ago

It would be really interesting to see the offers they turned down.

jfree
Member
jfree
4 years 3 months ago

My guess is that there was only one offer. Dodgers were IMO the best fit for Youk – but financially/playtime wise it makes more sense for them to bid for Youk for next year and send Loney off. Pirates (Indians too maybe) are supposedly “buyers” but they are still in perma-rebuilding mode and have nothing to offer anyone that wouldn’t hurt the Pirates more.

Big Jgke
Member
Big Jgke
4 years 3 months ago

Intra-division nonsense aside, Youk would have looked great at first for the Jays.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

ah come on now, fangraphs.

call a spade a spade for once when it comes to the red sox.

Youk being an elite hitter was one of the main reasons the Red Sox’ lineup was praised so much coming into the year. And now they’ve dumped him for nothing, and are betting on a previously unheralded prospect on a hot streak instead. Just a couple of weeks ago fangraphs was dicussing Youk’s trade value and the potential of him landing an impact piece in return to address a Red Sox need, and the consensus was certainly that he was worth more than this return.

the red sox just made a bad trade. it shouldn’t be so hard to admit it.

Eric Feczko
Guest
Eric Feczko
4 years 3 months ago

Bradley pretty much said that in the previous post regarding the trade, so I’m not sure if its a fangraphs inconsistency as much as a writer inconsistency.

Alternatively, the assessment of Youkilis published on fangraphs two weeks ago was incorrect. While there are some positive signs for regression (i.e. he should regress to an above average hitter, might even regress further because of the park change), by eye, Youk has looked hurt and outmatched at the plate, and is a below-average defender (because of limited range) at third.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

Fair enough – I missed the Bradley article. My bad for generalizing.

and the argument that Youk is done is fine, too….but even then, if that’s the case, that’s a pretty big (and negative) story on the projections for this red sox lineup going forward, and compared to what they were coming into the year.

Jake
Guest
Jake
4 years 3 months ago

If the Red Sox didn’t trade Youkilis, everdipshit would be on here saying they’re idiots for letting a washed-up glass joe block their top prospect.

It’s funny that you’re on this “Fangraphs is biased towards the Red Sox!” crusade when the only painfully biased one is you.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

everdipshit. not great, but not bad. I like it.

your team deserves some criticism sometimes, jake. sorry.

NS
Guest
NS
4 years 3 months ago

“previously unheralded prospect”

You’re such a hack.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

3) Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Grade B: Plate discipline/strike zone issues increase risk premium and preclude a higher grade right now, but he has the power and glove of a prototype third baseman. Needs 400 at-bats in Triple-A.

NS
Guest
NS
4 years 3 months ago

A snippet from John Sickels? Amazing. Not surprising, though, since the guy slurps the Blue Jays almost as hard as you do.

WMB was 51st to begin the year for Baseball America, 55th for Baseball Prospectus, and 42nd on Law’s midseason top 50 last year.

“Previously unheralded”? Yeah, keep on with your nonsense. You’ve got everyone fooled.

everdiso
Guest
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

ah yes, Sickels is biased against the Sox too!

5.0bb%, 23.1k%, .375babip

everdiso
Guest
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

-18.3uzr/150

Bonds.....Barry Bonds
Guest
Bonds.....Barry Bonds
4 years 3 months ago

why is this so confusing to people? have you not noticed Adrian Gonzalez playing in the outfield the past month? one might guess he might not be out there if not for the fact that Youk is not going to sit on the bench and be a super-sub.

Zeke
Guest
Zeke
4 years 3 months ago

“gives the roster a much cleaner alignment”

This is the nicer way of saying they gave him away for very little in either talent or salary relief just to avoid an awkward conversation, amirite?

Slats
Guest
Slats
4 years 3 months ago

“YOUK can put it on the board! Yes! Yes!”

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 3 months ago

HEEEEEEE GONE!

*shoots self in face*

Jake
Guest
Jake
4 years 3 months ago

“and the argument that Youk is done is fine, too….but even then, if that’s the case, that’s a pretty big (and negative) story on the projections for this red sox lineup going forward, and compared to what they were coming into the year.”

They’re currently 3rd in wRC+ as a team (with Youk contributing zero, I might add). They’ll finish the season at least that high if not higher.

You can spin whatever you want however you want to somehow claim that the Red Sox are perennially and universally overrated. Call me when they don’t finish a season with a top flight offense statistically.

everdiso
Guest
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

“somehow” claim?

the red sox “juggernaut” is on their way to their 3rd straight year of struggling to reach 90 wins.

they clearly have been “perennially and universally” overrated, no “somehow” about it.

Jake
Guest
Jake
4 years 3 months ago

We were discussing their offense. Then, realizing how dumb you look, you try to turn it into a discussion of their overall performance.

You are embarrassingly transparent.

Also, I don’t know why you put juggernaut in quotations, since you’re not quoting anybody but yourself. But I agree with you, their offense does have juggernaut upside.

everdiso
Guest
everdiso
4 years 3 months ago

sorry, the discussion of their overratedness always referred to the team as a whole, not just one aspect.

and, obviously, i’m quoting more than myself – this red sox team has been predicted to be a juggernaut – as a team – every year, and yet here they are for the third year in a row, a borderline playoff team at best.

If it makes you feel better that you can pick one element of the team that is performing up to expectations (thanks only of course to shocking contributions from the likes of Nava, Middlebrooks, Ross, Salty), that is fine, but the only use of that is to make you feel better on the internet.

and yes, that is embarassingly transparent on your part.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 3 months ago

How is this not seen as a bad trade? You have a guy who could be pretty valuable to several teams and they trade him for a 25 year old “former top prospect” (a lot of those guys around) who has never done anything and likely won’t and a guy who probably shouldn’t be on the BoSox ML roster.

They could have at least tried to package him with a mid level prospect for a SP.

Second, Middlebrooks has about 700 plate appearances over A+. He will likely struggle and/or not be as good as his current line.

You eat salary, you get nothing in return other than the hope that a 25 year old former prospect turns into a decent player, and then depend on a guy with basically a year’s worth of plate appearances of upper level minors and majors combined. It’s a bad trade.

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 3 months ago

Antonio –

Why are you acting like Youk was a prized commodity?
1) Hes been downright awful this year and part of last year.
2) He was/is an extremely risky acquisition considering his injury history, and hes also been in serious decline for the past 2 seasons.
3) And more importantly the Red Sox had zero leverage.

If Sports Center has been talking about the “imminent” Youkilis trade for 3 weeks now, then its obvious that every single MLB GM also knows that Boston has to trade the guy. Do a little bit of critical thinking and you will come to the conclusion that Youk had very little trade value.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 3 months ago

Okay, so wait for his value to go up? If you (as I do) believe that he will improve, then wait. You can send someone down if needed. Or like I said, package him with someone else to make it more valuable. They paid the ChiSox for him and took 2 crappy players. Doing nothing would have been better.

I don’t doubt that his value was down because other teams knew that Boston wanted to trade him. However, I feel like they really jumped the gun.

Luke Murphy
Guest
Luke Murphy
4 years 2 months ago

“Hes been downright awful this year and part of last year.”

Youkilis had 3.7 WAR last year. That is not even close to “downright awful.”

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 3 months ago

“The 28-year old had a breakout 2011 campaign, but he has changed his approach this year, and it has not been pretty. He has gone from a 0.64 GB/FB to a 1.82 mark this season,”
==============================================

Honest question:
Why do you assume he changed his approach? Is it not just as likely that last year was a complete fluke, or this year pitchers have changed their approach against him? Or perhaps something completely unrelated to skill?

I just notice that lots of articles state “player X has changed his approach – last year his XXX was YYYY and this year his XXX is ZZZ”
but i question how much is just variation, and how much is actual “change in approach”

Tom
Guest
Tom
4 years 3 months ago

The “clean” alignment would have been to have him on the roster as a backup 3rd/1st baseman and maybe get a day or two at DH against a tough lefty (and pinch hit for the lefty outfielders who can’t hit lefties if/when they get healthy).

The issue wasn’t cleanliness of roster construction – it was Bobby V not wanting to deal with Youkilis after his comments earlier in the season when he threw his own player under the bus with his “not emotionally there” comment.

Or is a backup 1st/3rd baseman now a wasted roster spot? If either AGon or Middlebrooks gets hurt, then what? Aviles to 3rd, Punto at SS? Ortiz @ 1st? Lillibridge at 1st/3rd? Seems like 2 mil in savings is not much of a gain for a team with the payroll the Red Sox have… why not just have him as a bench piece?

Couple this with the Lowrie, Scutaro, and Reddick trades and you have to wonder if roster construction is trumping the concept of getting value back in trades. While trades here are usually analyzed as value for value comparison, it seems when one of the SABR preferred GM’s makes a trade that doesn’t fit that evaluation in a positive light it becomes about “roster construction”, “dealing from excess”….. is it just a matter of time before “team chemistry” is in the analysis?

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 3 months ago

Well, it was a “team chemistry” trade. Bobby V. didn’t want to deal with the personnel issues of keeping Youkilis in the role you described, which would have been a better baseball decision, so he forced him off the team.

But hey, at least he has his first basemen run around behind the baserunner before the pitch!! Supergenius!

wpDiscuz