After spending 8½ years in Boston and delivering a pair of World Series titles to the Fenway Park faithful, Kevin Youkilis was surprised when the New York Yankees expressed interest in fitting him for pinstripes.
"At first, it was kind of like, 'Wow!'" he said Friday after finalizing a one-year, $12 million contract with New York. "There's a lot of great Red Sox fans that just wanted the best for me going forward and I know there's going to be some that don't like the decision, and you can't worry about that."
A three-time All-Star, Youkilis becomes the Yankees' starting third baseman for at least the first half of next season while Alex Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery. A-Rod's operation is scheduled for next month.
"Obviously, he certainly cushions the blow of losing Alex," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "That's a difficult loss. When you have a healthy Alex Rodriguez, you have really one of the game's more productive players. But I couldn't think of anybody better to replace him in the short-term with as Kevin Youkilis."
While announcing the deal for Youkilis, the Yankees closed in on a two-year, $13 million contract with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The sides still had to finalize language and the deal will be subject to a physical, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement was not complete. Suzuki will get $6.5 million a year.
Youkilis, traded from the Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox in June, joined Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon as Boston players who made the switch to the Bronx in the heated rivalry. He'll get an early look at his old club: The Red Sox are set to open at Yankee Stadium on April 1.
"I reached out to Johnny. He just said you're going to love the experience. It's a great place to play," Youkilis said.
But Damon also has felt the wrath of Red Sox fans.
"He's had a hard time in Boston. I saw him the other day. It's kind of upsetting to him, the fact that they've been pretty rough on him," Youkilis said.
He also plans to speak with Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain. The pair feuded in the past over tight fastballs.
"It's not a big deal to me," Youkilis said. "If it was that big of a deal, I wouldn't be signing with the Yankees."
Chamberlain left Youkilis a voicemail this week, but they haven't spoken.
"I haven't been able to return so many calls," Youkilis said. "But I'll reach out to him and talk to him."
If and when Rodriguez returns, Youkilis figures to see time at first base backing up Mark Teixeira. He also could get some games at designated hitter.
"And they told me I'm going to play shortstop, too," Youkilis said before quickly adding he had no intention of taking time away from Yankees captain Derek Jeter: "I'm just kidding. They're definitely not going to put me at short. If they put me at short, we're going to be in a lot of trouble."
Rodriguez, who turns 38 in July, will have surgery in mid-January, and the Yankees said the anticipated recovery time is six months.
"I'm not going to guarantee anything about when he's coming back or how he'll come back. So we'll just have to wait and see," Cashman said. "We hope we can bring him back into the fold and have the high-caliber player that we hoped to have prior to these injuries. But our season and our team is going on regardless, and therefore that's why this was such an important acquisition."
Rodriguez is owed $114 million by the Yankees as part of his record 10-year, $275 million contract.
"I'm not in a position here to guarantee anything or frame what the realistic expectations are as we move forward over the next five years with what we're going to get from him," Cashman said. "I just think we have to play it out and see."
To make room for Youkilis on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated left-hander Josh Spence for assignment.