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Youkilis, Red Sox have hit the jackpot

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / January 17, 2009
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Just before agent Joe Bick began a conversation with Red Sox vice president of player personnel Ben Cherington Tuesday about a one-year contract for Kevin Youkilis, he asked a simple question: "Are we finished talking about a multiyear possibility?"

It had seemed that way at the end of December, when Bick told the Globe a long-term deal seemed out of the question this offseason. The sides had appeared too far apart, each thinking the other wasn't budging. Then Bick asked the question.

"If you want to talk about the possibility, I told him, I said, 'OK, as long as we agree to one thing,' " Bick said. " 'It's time to get into the heavy-duty part of a salary arbitration. Let's set a deadline on this that we have to get this done in the next 24 hours. We've talked about it a lot. If you're willing to do it and we're willing to do it, we can get it done in 24 hours.' "

It took 26. Bick had asked his question at 2 p.m. Tuesday. By 4 p.m. Wednesday, the framework was in place on a four-year, $41 million deal that could be worth as much as $53 million if the Red Sox pick up Youkilis's option for 2013. The contract was announced officially at a press conference yesterday at Fenway Park.

"There's no question that if either side had remained at the position we were in on Dec. 23 or 24, we wouldn't have gotten it done," said Bick, who added that the sides had started talking about a multiyear deal in the middle of November. "I think that it was just a matter of having conversation through the issues and it all happened very fast."

So for the second time this offseason, general manager Theo Epstein sat at a podium for a press conference to announce the signing of a player who had come up through the Red Sox system. Perhaps that was an instructive moment for the 12 minor leaguers in Boston for the last two weeks attending the Rookie Development Program.

And that's not only because the rookies have repeatedly been told to hold up Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis as examples on the field and developmentally.

Contractually, too. First, it was Pedroia in December. This time, it was Youkilis, who will earn a $1 million signing bonus along with $6 million for 2009, $10 million for 2010, and $12 million for 2011 and 2012.

"We've made no secret about our priorities here, that we want to develop a home-grown core of tal ent," Epstein said. "We feel like that's the best way, the only way, to achieve sustainable success year in and year out. I think we've made a lot of progress in that regard. It's hard to keep preaching that message if the only players you give money to are players that you bring in from outside the organization.

"With the signing of Kevin and the signing of Dustin Pedroia earlier this offseason, those investments really reflect our priorities as an organization and who we want to be, which is a team full of home-grown talent trained in the Red Sox way, and able to compete at the highest level for a world championship year in and year out."

The Sox would have liked to give a major contract to a player outside the organization - Mark Teixeira - but lost out to the Yankees. But the Sox have been successful in setting up the right side of their infield for at least the next four years, and in yet again validating their minor league system, which might result in a couple more long-term deals in the years to come.

"Tying up young players in theory sounds good, but they also have to be good enough to handle giving your ball club a chance to win every year and that's not easy," manager Terry Francona said. "And now on the right side of our infield, you've got a guy that won the MVP, a guy that came in third. Both guys are Gold Glove-caliber players, they both love to win, and we've seen them both come through our minor league system, so that certainly gives us a huge comfort zone."

Epstein added that they "thrive playing their games in this pressure cooker at Fenway Park and they want nothing more than to win a World Series at the end of the year."

Most years, as both know, they'll have a chance to do that in Boston. But now they won't have to worry about their contract status, though each might have traded some financial gain for the stability that comes with such deals.

"Could I have made a little more money? Maybe," Youkilis said. "It's not about money. It's about going out and playing baseball. I'm getting paid a lot of money to play baseball. This is more than I've ever imagined making in my career, let alone in anything other than trying to play the lottery."

The deal means more time in Boston for Youkilis, in the place where he has played his entire career, and where the family of his wife - they were married this offseason - lives. For the next four years or, as he said yesterday, "hopefully five."

"I never pictured myself on another team," Youkilis said. "All my buddies back home in Cincinnati said, 'You've got to come play for the Reds; we need a player like you on the Reds.' I said it's not that easy. For me, I never saw myself on another team. I've always seen putting on that Red Sox uniform every day, putting on that 'B' on the hat. This is home to me. I don't know any other place other than Boston to come to the field every day and to live.

"For me, it's a great feeling just to know that I can be here and stay here for a long time."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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