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Now that the dust has settled and Kevin Youkilis has finally been shipped out of Boston and forced to change the color of his Sox, (see what I did there?) we can take a look to see the benefits for each team.
In exchange for Youkilis, the White Sox sent Zach Stewart, and Brent Lillibridge to the Red Sox. The Red Sox will aslo absorb all but $2 million of the remaining money owed to Youkilis. The White Sox get a vast improvement at the third base position, as before acquiring Youkilis their third basemen had a combine .167 batting average. While Youkilis has not been exactly tearing the cover off the ball this season, a change of scenery and a clear head could be exactly what he needed to start producing offensively. Defensively, the White Sox are getting a sure handed fielder who can man both corner infield positions.
Zach Stewart is a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher. He has been used as a starter and a reliever in his short Major League career, but Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington has stated that he will be sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket and placed in the starting rotation. The Red Sox management has kept an eye on Stewart throughout his career as well as his college days.
Stewart was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, and was regarded as their top prospect by Baseball America in 2009. He has a strong arm and is primarily a sinker ball pitcher. He has not found consistent success at the major league level, but Cherington said “We like the upside and the chance for him to be a controllable big league starter.” Stewart is not expected to help the major league ball club right away, but is expected to develop his pitches in the minor leagues in an effort to bolster their pitching depth for the future.
Stewart’s stat line may cause some to be sour on this acquisition. In his young career he is 3-8 with a 5.92 earned run average, 61 strikeouts, 22 walks, and an alarming 21 homeruns allowed. Some of these high numbers can be attributed to him being rushed into the major leagues too soon, and not having the chance to fully refine his pitches. The Red Sox have had success acquiring pitchers who haven’t reached their potential yet, and turning them into reliable pitchers. Andrew Miller is a prime example of that.
Stewart’s best outing came in his rookie season against the Twins. He had a perfect game through seven innings before allowing a hit. He finished the outing with only the one hit allowed. With some work in the minors Stewart could turn out to be a vital part of this starting rotation in the coming years.
Lillibridge, unlike Stewart, joins the Major League club right away. Lillibridge is a utility player who has played every position except pitcher and catcher in his career. His stats don’t jump out at anyone as being a superstar caliber player, as he is only hitting .175 this season, and is a career .215 hitter, but his versatility in he field make him an attractive addition to the roster. He will be similar to Bill Hall in the 2010 season, only with less power. He provides good fielding ability with a career .974 fielding percentage, fielding at least 10 games at every position except pitcher and catcher. Lillibridge also provides some speed on the base paths as he has 30 stolen bases in his career while being caught only 14 times.
Two other huge benefits for the Red Sox in this deal are that Will Middlebrooks will get to play full time at third base, and Adrian Gonzalez can return to playing first base, where he is most comfortable. Gonzalez has struggled to get going this season, and it could be attributed to playing right field for a good portion of the season. He is not as comfortable in the outfield as he is at first base, which can take away from his focus at the plate. Consistent play at the position he plays so well may be just what he needs to focus more on his offense.
Middlebrooks has had an incredible start to his rookie season. In only 42 games he is hitting .324 with 9 homeruns, 34 runs batted in, and has a slugging percentage of .581. To give those numbers some added substance, Alex Rodriguez only has 33 RBI’s in 70 games played, which is 28 more games than Middlebrooks. While anything can happen over a full season, it’s hard to argue that Middlebrooks has earned the right to be the full time starting third baseman.
Kevin Youkilis was the epitome of a ball-player. He treated every single at bat, pitch, and play like it was do or die. His hard work and determination is shown in the amount of sweat that poured from beneath his cap game in and game out. There will be plenty of people who say he was bad for the clubhouse, or he rubbed people the wrong way, but I believe that can be said about anyone when teammates have to spend nine months with each other. All his teammates say otherwise as they were sad to see him go and only sang his praises on the way out.
Youkilis spent countless hours with his charity, “Youks Kids”, and loved the fans of Boston. He gave us eight and a half great years in a Red Sox uniform, and was a part of two world championship teams. Youkilis was a unique player with a signature batting stance, and an unmistakable goatee. He played gold glove caliber defense, and even spent some time in the outfield when the team needed him to. Like all good things, this had to come to an end for both sides to succeed. Youkilis never saw eye to eye with manager Bobby Valentine, and the emergence of Middlebrooks made it impossible for him to remain a member of the Red Sox.
Youkilis still has plenty of baseball left in him, and a change of scenery will serve him well. The best case scenario is that Middlebrooks continues to perform, while Youkilis finds his stroke again out in Chicago. Best of luck on the White Sox Kevin, and thank you for everything you did as a member of the Boston Red Sox.