Youkilis trade works for all involved parties
White Sox hope third baseman will flourish in new environment
The White Sox just got a lot better, and it's not just about the production Kevin Youkilis will bring. But that's where it begins.
Almost every scout who has watched Youkilis this season believes he still has plenty of baseball left. He's only 33 years old. That number may surprise you, because he has been on baseball's biggest stage so often, it feels like he has been around forever.
There obviously are some questions. He's a career .286 hitter, but has been a shadow of that the last two seasons. He's hitting .233 this season and has looked overmatched at times. The White Sox are taking something of a leap of faith that there's a lot more there.
Considering their third basemen began the day hitting .167 with a .243 on-base percentage and one home run in 246 at-bats, the White Sox don't need Youkilis to be superman for him to be an upgrade.
With the Tigers having been unable to take control of the American League Central, this season has become an opportunity for the rest of the division.
At a time when both the Tigers and White Sox need more offensive punch, the White Sox made the first move in acquiring Youkilis for a power arm (Zach Stewart) and a utility player (Brent Lillibridge).
It was a deal the Red Sox had to make. For one thing, it opens up consistent playing time for rookie Will Middlebrooks. That they're getting two serviceable pieces back (and paying a portion of Youkilis' contract) is a bonus. Now, both their lineup and clubhouse should stabilize.
As for the White Sox, general manager Kenny Williams has done his usual terrific under-the-radar job in constructing a team that has been far more competitive than many of us thought.
Now he's hoping Youkilis will flourish in a new environment. That's exactly what plenty of scouts believe will happen. To go from a manager he clearly had no use for to one who is the polar opposite in terms of dealing with players should be a breath of fresh air.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura also has the luxury of giving Youkilis consistent playing time. That means Youk can go out there knowing a bad game isn't going to land him on the bench.
Youkilis got off to a bad start with new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, and they never made their peace with one another.
Their relationship deteriorated to the point that when Valentine decided "to ride the hot hand" of rookie Middlebrooks on Friday, he didn't even bother to meet face to face with Youkilis.
Valentine earlier this season made a terrible mistake when he publicly second-guessed Youkilis' commitment.
Valentine could have said a thousand other things that would have rung true. Good managers almost never criticize their players publicly, but that's a discussion for another day.
Valentine could have said that Youkilis was too tightly wound. He could have said that he needed to back off the smashing of bats and throwing of helmets. He even could have pointed out that Youkilis was unanimously beloved in his own clubhouse.
To question his desire was silly. Youkilis cares deeply and is a consummate professional. He's demanding of himself, and at times, of those around him.
That heart and hustle are two of the things that made him so popular among Red Sox fans. Fans want to see that players care as much as they do. With Youkilis, there was never a question.
Years from now, when Red Sox fans talk about ending 86 years of frustration and winning the World Series twice in four years, Youkilis will be one of the players front and center in their hearts and minds.
Valentine graciously gave him the chance for a final curtain call at Fenway Park, and Youkilis blew a kiss to the crowd as the cheers washed over him and his career highlights played on the video board.
(The testimonials may not be done yet, since the White Sox will be back at Fenway July 16-19.)
Once Valentine publicly doubted him, Youkilis never again looked comfortable. He probably was so determined to prove his manager wrong that he couldn't relax and do the things he'd done so easily before.
When Middlebrooks began to hit, the Red Sox were in a tough spot. They needed to showcase Youkilis to trade him, but they needed to play Middlebrooks for the impact he brought to the lineup.
At the moment, 17 of 30 teams are within five games of a playoff berth, and with the races so muddled, there are likely to be playoff spots decided by the team that takes care of its needs.
The White Sox got a head start on the competition Sunday afternoon. They're going to love Kevin Youkilis.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.