The Red Sox aren’t showcasing Kevin Youkilis. They’re proving to any franchise with a whisper of interest in trading for him that he can’t play anymore.
They needed to get him out of the lineup many yesterdays ago, and they need to get him out of Boston long before the July 31 trade deadline arrives.
It’s too bad it has to be this way. He was an exceptional hitter once, one whose OPS rose in five successive seasons following his rookie year, and his greatest successes — finishing third in the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player balloting and sixth a year later — were not the result of heaven-delivered natural talent, but from relentless work at his craft that left that perpetual sweat on his brow. He was about as self-made as a big-leaguer gets, and while fans’ acknowledgment of him may have sounded like boos — “Yoooouuuuuk!” — it was precisely the opposite, a collective appreciative salute.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that there’s not much left to appreciate about Youkilis nowadays. Injuries have sapped whatever mobility he had that made him a decent third baseman, and his lack of range is even noticeable when he shifts across the diamond to first, where he once won (and deserved) a Gold Glove.
But it’s his spot in the lineup that’s difficult to justify for any reason, and Bobby Valentine’s decision to hit him third in the order twice since June 12 is puzzling even by Bobby V’s quirky managerial standards.
Youkilis’s numbers this year are plainly hideous — as of Tuesday night, he had a .215/.301/.341 slash line with four home runs in 153 plate appearances. But this is nothing new — this began with two months remaining in the 2011 season. In 245 plate appearances and 214 at-bats since August 1 of last season, Youkilis has hit .206 with 6 home runs, 19 RBIs, a .302 on-base percentage, and a .341 slugging percentage. For semi-context, in 202 plate appearances in 2006, Doug Mirabelli hit .191 with 6 homers, 25 RBIs, a .267 OBP, and a .328 slugging percentage.
Doug. Mirabelli. As you’ll recall, he got a police escort to Fenway that season after he was reacquired by the Padres. I’ll say it if you won’t: Perhaps Youkilis will get one soon leaving Fenway.
OK, that was snide, but trust me, it’s born from the frustration of knowing that showcasing him is counterproductive in so many ways. Not only is he getting worse rather than better — did I mention that entering Tuesday night’s game, he had a Crespoian .440 OPS in June? — but he’s keeping Will Middlebrooks, a future cornerstone whose arrival has been one of the few pleasant things about this team through the first 67 games, out of the lineup. And when Youkilis and Middlebrooks are in the lineup together, Adrian Gonzalez is forced to gamely trudge out to right field, where he’s an injury or an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.
Should you require further foreshadowing that Youkilis’s best days are behind him, consider his most similar comp overall and through age 32 according to baseball-reference.com:
Christopher Trotman Nixon.
The prosecution rests.
You cheered him, of course, as Trot, and like Youkilis, he had some terrific seasons in a Red Sox uniform. (Nixon’s 2003 campaign is an overlooked gem in recent Red Sox history: .306, .975 OPS, 28 homers in 441 at-bats.) But bizarre, serious injuries rapidly diminished Nixon’s abilities just as they are doing to Youkilis. He was done as an above-average player at 31 and played his final big league game at 34, hitting .171 in 41 at-bats with the Mets.
It sure does feel like Youkilis is following the same path, and by running him out there as often as they have, they’ve done a fine job of providing additional evidence that the end is near. The suggestion that Billy Beane, who famously dubbed him the “Greek God of Walks,” might be interested ignores the fact that “Moneyball” was released in 2003, when Youkilis was in Double A. I suspect he’s about as interested in him as he is Jeremy Brown at this point.
And if reports that general manager Ben Cherington requested Gerardo Parra — a 25-year-old defensive whiz — from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Youkilis are true, well, there’s nothing wrong with shooting for the moon, but here’s hoping he’s being reasonable. A minor-leaguer with a reasonable chance of sticking in the big leagues would be more than enough. Two decent minor-leaguers would be a windfall.
Whatever the compensation, this has to happen, and soon. Youkilis no longer fits here, and that applies to his personality as well. Perhaps the report of a “toxic” clubhouse was overstated, but the Red Sox do seem to have an abundance of grouches and cynics, while individual accountability sometimes seems scarce. Maybe it’s not entirely fair, but Youkilis’s scowling face and sour demeanor seem to encapsulate everything that is so unlikeable about this team.
(Quick aside: I’m still stunned that he’s married into the sunny, happy Brady family. Imagine how awkward it will be on Thanksgiving when Youkilis rolls his eyes, slams down his fork and blurts “I WANT MY [CHOICE EXPLETIVE] BIRD!” after Gisele informs everyone gathering at the table that they’ll be having tofurky this year.)
It’s been a good ride for Youkilis in Boston. He gave the franchise three exceptional seasons (2008-10) and three more solid ones. He won two championships and made a pair of All-Star teams. He became so much more than even Billy Beane imagined, and he deserves a tip of the cap for that.
But while his name inexplicably remains on the lineup card, the truth is that those golden days are gone. Sooner rather than later, Youkilis should be, too.