In what amounts to a heel-turn in New England, one of New York’s most hated longtime Red Sox, All-Star first baseman-turned-third baseman Kevin Youkilis, accepted on Tuesday the one-year, $12 million offer the Yankees made to him at the close of the winter meetings last week. The Yankees have thus filled the void created by incumbent third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery with the best available option without impacting their ability to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2014, the latter being their primary goal this and next offseason.
Youkilis had been weighing the Yankees’ offer against one from the Indians worth a reported $18 million over two years. Youkilis is from Cincinnati and the Indians, who wanted him to play first base, just hired Terry Francona, the only major league manager he’d ever had prior to the 2012 season. However, with Youkilis hesitating, Cleveland filled its first-base hole over the weekend by signing Mark Reynolds for one year at $6 million, effectively taking Youkilis’s offer off the table.
The reasons for Youkilis’s hesitation likely had to do with the relative chances of contention of the two teams as well as with the fact that the Yankees’ one-year offer was for two-thirds of the total dollars of the Indians’ offer while also allowing him to reenter the market a year earlier and, perhaps significantly, before his 35th birthday, which will arrive in March 2014. With Rodriguez expected to miss most if not all of the first-half of the 2013 season following hip surgery, Youkilis will be the Yankees’ starting third baseman for the duration of Rodriguez’s absence and could well remain in that role after Rodriguez’s return should the Yankees opt to limit Rodriguez to designated-hitter duties upon his return, a very likely scenario given that Rodriguez had more starts at DH than any other Yankee in 2012. Even if the Yankees do put Rodriguez back in the field upon his return, Youkilis should remain a regular part of the lineup in a third-base, first-base, DH rotation with Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
I say “should” because Youkilis will have to hit to stay in the lineup, something that was a given just a couple of years ago but is now open to question after his .235/.336/.409 performance in 2012. Youkilis will also have to stay healthy. A notorious red-ass, Youkilis plays hard and is often banged up as a result, but he also has a bad body* and is a year older than Teixeira, who has seen some age- and injury-related decline in recent seasons himself. He last played in more than 122 games in 2009, last played in more than 136 in 2008, his last season without a disabled list stay, and has never played 150 games in his major league career. Youkilis was also a late-bloomer, not establishing himself as a major league starter until his age-27 season, and late-bloomers with bad bodies and old player skills (power and patience without speed and agility) often suffer early declines. Further evidence of Youkilis’s recent decline is that he hit .312/.437/.468 in the old Yankee Stadium, but just .233/.337/.397 in the new one, which opened in 2009 (small sample caveats apply of course, the former line came in 135 regular season plate appearances, the latter in just 86).
* As Francona famously said regarding the Moneyball description of Youkilis as “The Greek God of Walks,” “I’ve seen him in the shower. He’s not the Greek God of anything.”
Still, demand exceeded supply in the market for third basemen this winter, a situation exacerbated by Rodriguez’s injury, and the Yankees got exactly what they needed in an expensive one-year deal for Youkilis. With that 2014 luxury-tax threshold foremost on their mind, the Yankees have prioritized players willing to sign one-year deals, also known as old players. Thus far this winter they have re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, all to one-year deals, signed Youkilis for one year, and are now rumored to be closing in on a one-year for Ichiro Suzuki. The 2013 playing ages of those players are 38, 41, 43, 34, and 39, with Youkilis the baby of the bunch.
As for Youkilis’s heel-turn, he is now the seventh member of the 2004 Red Sox’s World Series roster (know in Boston as “the 25”), to join the Yankees following Mark Bellhorn, Alan Embree (2005), Mike Myers (2006-07), Johnny Damon (2006-09), Doug Mientkiewicz (2007), and Derek Lowe (2012). Of that group, Damon’s defection by far was the most painful for Red Sox fans, and only Damon did enough in pinstripes to be embraced by Yankee fans. Youkilis already ranks with Damon in the former category, but he stands very little chance of doing enough in one year with the suddenly cost-conscious Yankees to rank with him in the latter even if he does rebound from his disappointing 2012 campaign.
-- Cliff Corcoran