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Say it ain’t so, Youk!! Kevin Youkilis recently became the latest in a long line of Red Sox players to defect to the “dark side” and join the New York Yankees, signing a one-year deal worth a reported $12 million.
It’s a deal that makes sense for both parties, as the Yankees will be without starting third baseman Alex Rodriguez until at least the All Star Break. New York needed a veteran fill-in for the first part of the season, and a versatile, proven player like Youkilis perfectly fits the bill. (On another note, this is A-Rod’s sixth trip to the DL in six years. And he’s signed through 2017! But, that’s a whole separate column…)
Youkilis was probably originally looking for more years on any free agent deal, but after a season in which he performed well below his career averages, it was hard for him to turn down the kind of money offered by the Yanks. Youk put together his worst statistical season of his nine-year career in 2012, hitting a combined .235 between his time with the Red Sox and White Sox, along with a .745 OPS, also a career worst. (I’ll ignore the obvious Napoli/Victorino parallels here for sanity’s sake.) He will look to turn things around next year in the House that Steinbrenner built, and get back to his old productive self.
However, it wasn’t just at the plate that Youkilis had a tough season. We all remember his very public spat with Bobby Valentine, stemming from early season comments made by the manager questioning the effort and heart of one of Boston’s grittiest players. With the rapid emergence of Will Middlebrooks as the third baseman of the present, not just of the future, Youk became the odd man out on Yawkey Way. He was dealt for cents on the dollar to the White Sox, a move that angered many fans.
Because of the way he left town under a cloud of discontent, many have chosen to blame Youkilis’ departure on the obvious culprit: Bobby V. Although he does make a convenient and inept scapegoat for all the failures of the 2012 Sox season, all Valentine really did in this particular situation was to speed along the inevitable. Kevin Youkilis would almost definitely not have been in a Red Sox uniform next season, no matter whom the management had brought in last year. His declining numbers made the decision easier, but in professional sports the younger, cheaper option will usually win out, and in this case Middlebrooks was just that.
As for the fact that he signed with the hated Yankees: Does that mean we have to boo him now? Will he get the Johnny Damon and Wade Boggs treatment? In my opinion, the answer to these should be a resounding NO. As I said before, it wasn’t his choice to leave the way he did. He wasn’t a player who unexpectedly and suddenly bolted in free agency for more money, the way Damon did after winning a World Series here in 2004. However unfortunate the circumstances, he was traded by the Red Sox, and deserves tremendous thanks for the years of hard work and solid play he gave the Red Sox and their fans. Youkilis had always liked New York, and was simply going where he thought was the best situation for him. In the Bronx, he will start, and even after A-Rod returns he will continue to platoon at First Base and Designated Hitter, giving him a chance to recover after his down year, and then hopefully score a multi-year deal during the next offseason.
Youkilis was here for both World Series victories of the past decade, and despite what Bobby Valentine may have said, he always gave 100% on the field, and was a modern-day dirt dog. Hopefully on July 19th when the Yankees make their first trip to Fenway Park, the “YOOUUUKS” will drown out the boos.