Boston Red Sox should consider trading Youkilis

If you’ve been tuning in to Boston-area sports you’ve probably come across the first real drama of the year in the Red Sox clubhouse.  New manager Bobby Valentine decided to invite controversy to the party by questioning Kevin Youkilis’ level of mental and physical dedication.

Regardless of his intent, Valentine made a poor choice in appearing to criticize Youkilis (Rogash/ Getty)

On Sunday’s edition of WHDH’s Sports Xtra, Valentine said, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason. But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”

It’s unclear as to what Valentine thought could be gained from this.  If he was looking to light a fire under Youk, he did it in exactly the wrong way.  Youkilis has never needed any help being an emotional player.  The guy thrives on angry energy.  Since becoming a regular player in the Sox lineup, Youk has been a grind-it-out, blue-collar type of player, dependable (when healthy) and serving as a core member of the franchise.  Contrast that with Valentine, a newcomer whose brash style has made waves many times before.

At best it’s an odd statement to make given the personalities involved and the other circumstances surrounding the club at the moment.  At worst it’s a direct and effective assault on the team chemistry of an organization that doesn’t need any more challenges.

Many of the veteran Sox didn’t approve of the Valentine hire.  Something like this– a perceived low-blow levied against a fan-favorite for no apparent reason– is going to make things much, much worse.

Already Youkilis’ agent has spoken outabout the comments, saying he wouldn’t “dignify [Valentine's] quotes by responding”, though that was a response in and of itself.  Dustin Pedroia had a more extensive reaction, telling the media, “I know that Youk plays as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.  I have his back and his teammates have his back and we know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”

Responding to a question of whether Valentine’s remarks could be construed as motivational, Pedroia said, “maybe (that works) in Japan or something, but over here in the U.S. we’ve got a three-game winning streak and we want to feel good and keep it rolling.  We feel we have a good team and we’ve just got to get each other’s backs and play together. If you don’t do that, I don’t care what sport you’re playing, you’re not going to win.  We’ve got Youk’s back. He’s played his ass off for us for a long time. Anytime he steps on the field, he’s a great player. We’re here to win and win with him.”

And of course, Youkilis himself weighed in with some confusion.  “That’s not what I see,” Youkilis said about the alleged lack of involvement. “I go out every day and play as hard as I can — take every ground ball in the morning, take every at-bat like it’s my last. I don’t think my game has changed at all. I still get upset with myself. I still get mad.”

For all its faults, the Valentine hire had plenty of upside when Boston’s front office announced the decision.  Bobby V is a determined, high-energy manager with an excellent baseball acumen.  But in the wake of this needless fiasco, it certainly feels like his people skills need some polishing.  And by shooting his mouth off, Valentine is proving his critics right and giving them ammunition that will last for months.

Valentine claims he meant no harm nor offense.  He claimed his comments about physical involvement were directed toward flaws he saw in Youk’s swing, and that Youk’s reaction to his slow start seemed to be getting him down, emotionally.   Valentine apologized to Youkilis shortly after the comments went public, saying to the media, “there’s a perception that I’m going to criticize players in the paper or the press.  So as soon as I (say) something that’s construed as criticism, it’s going to be misinterpreted.”

Fair enough, but it’s awfully hard to misinterpret what feels like a very clear and explicitly shot taken at a player’s level of dedication.

It’s possible that he really was trying to motivate Youk, either directly (by challenging him to step up) or indirectly (by trying to unite the team behind one of its own).  But if so, why?  The Red Sox started the season 2-5, and after grabbing three straight wins, improved to 4-5.  Being one game under .500 is hardly a cause for panic, and though they lost the series finale to finish the first ten games at 4-6, that record doesn’t call for a shake-up of any kind.

The team has been shaken enough by the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, who will out for roughly six weeks.  Alienating Youkilis hardly seems prudent.

Youkilis is a fiery, demonstrative player.  His temper has created divisions in the past, such as the time he criticized Ellsbury for not rehabbing with the team following a rib injury in 2010.  Even if he can let Valentine’s comments go, what kind of damage have those words done to the foundation of Youkilis’ relationship with the club?

The Red Sox have a pattern of burning bridges; it’s one of the least-appealing aspects of the franchise.  They like to throw people under the bus.  Even though this could be an isolated incident, it obviously does nothing to counter that reputation.

Frankly, the best move might be to start shopping the 33 year old infielder.

This might sound rash.  After all, Youk has done nothing wrong.  A slow start through eight games couldn’t be less relevant, and he’s been an integral part of the club for nearly a decade.  Seeking to trade him almost feels like a punishment.  However, looking at the bigger picture forces us to consider certain realities.

The fans love Youk, but age and health concerns make it doubtful that he'll return to Boston after this season (AP Photo)

The first of those is that Youk, at 33, will be seeking one more lucrative contract.  He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season.  It doesn’t make all that much sense for Boston to re-sign him; moving forward he’ll likely be limited to playing first base, which would put Adrian Gonzalez at…DH?  Even if we assume that this is David Ortiz’s final season in the uniform, keeping Youkilis long-term might carry more risk than reward.

Youk’s body type will probably work against him.  He missed a quarter of the year last year, and 60 games the year before that.  Even those of us who are huge Youk fans (and yes, I am) have to face facts.  The odds of Youk being healthy enough to turn in full seasons at any position, even DH, are getting slimmer by the year.  That said, he still has considerable value and is still and excellent player.

But the second reality at work here is that Boston has other, bigger needs.  Will Middlebrooks should get a shot at third, Gonzalez is going to be around for a long time, and others, like Lars Anderson, are waiting in the wings to make their own marks at Fenway.  Youkilis is certain to look for more than $10 million per season, and will probably try for a three or four-year deal; financially, that’s not a wise investment for a team that still has major question marks on the mound, at shortstop, and to a lesser extent, behind the plate.

Finally there’s the simple fact that the window for cashing in on Youk’s value is closing.  At the end of the year he most likely walks for nothing, and between now and then are sure to be some nagging injuries that sideline him from time to time.  Third base is a fairly thin position in major league baseball, and plenty of teams need quality infielders.  Reliable, middle-of-the-order type hitters, of which Youk is still one.

Boston can say goodbye to one of its most beloved players in the fall and have nothing to show for it but memories.  Or, the club can gauge the interest level and see if it could gain some talent by moving Youkilis.  After this schism between Valentine and the players, it might, on some level, even be what’s best for Youkilis.

The key would be to handle it properly.  If the front office appears to be dumping Youkilis and standing behind Bobby V, that could cause a significant eruption to occur.  The Sox can’t afford that much drama, not with other contract decisions (see Ellsbury’s impending free agency) looming.  But if they manage the transaction well– an admittedly big IF– it could be a wise move all around.

Comments

  1. JJ says

    Had the privilege of Youlk living in the neighborhood when he played in the Cape Cod League.
    Great kid. I always thought he should have been paid more over the years. I hope he ends up in pinstripes.
     

    • Matt says

      Yep, I’m a Cincinnati native, lived on Cape Cod for 10 years, and lived in Maine when Youk played in Portland.  It’s weird…like he’s stalking me.  Or vice versa maybe.  Either way I’ve watched him or followed him at pretty much every level from UC to the Sox.  It’s not like I want him to go.  But the business of baseball is an unfortunate reality.

  2. Bill says

    Since when does a team run the team//////what a bunch of multimillionare babies. If the manager makes comments to light a spark to improve a player…hey that is part of his job…you report what u think….but if a player can not take the heat,  get out of the kitchen. Valentines mistake is mentioning this stuff to you guys…period

  3. Dmjm says

    Hi,

    There is an old saying when teaching a problem solving module.  If you don’t fix the cause, you don’t fix the problem.  You have a popular player busing his ass for the team who is 33 years old.  You don’t have another super stud kid being held back just yet.

    Seems to me that Valentine is an idiot and that is the real problem.  Team is winning, playing well of late, just lost a major player for an extended period of time.  You don’t need distractions like this one.

    Maybe trade him for Zambrano, ya think?

    regards,
    Dennis Miller

  4. Jeff D says

    If they can trade him now when he’s making $12 million why can’t they trade him next year when he’s making $13 million? How are they going to get a good return for someone who makes $12 million and is unlikely to play 120 games?

    • Matt says

      The difference is that you trade him now, the new team has the choice to keep him for next year and work on an extension.  That team might have more of a need than Boston does, and/or may be willing to spend money differently.  If you wait until next year, he’s basically a partial-season rental.  And I think teams are usually leery of that.  

      Plus, if they move him this year, they stand to save, say, $20M over the next and half.  That’s a lot of money to spend elsewhere versus on Youk.  I love him as a player, but he’s not worth $25M from now through the end of next year, that’s nuts.

      • Jeff D says

        So you think they will get a good return for him and not have to pay any of this years salary? What team do you think is going to make this deal? Is there another team in baseball that can drop $20+ million for 2 years on an injury prone third baseman that has plenty prospects to give up?

        I think Youkilis fills a role this year and they won’t get value in return. There’s no sense in paying him to play somewhere else when they don’t have a solid backup plan. If he has a great year they can pick up his option and he can DH next year and be there at third if Middlebrooks falls on his face.

        • Matt says

          I think you’ve lost perspective after rooting for this team.  Not every club is so stacked with talent that they could have a guy like Youkilis and consider him expendable.  Boston has that luxury.  There are other teams in search of a middle of the order type bat who would be willing to part with things we need.  Say…I don’t know…relief pitching, a shortstop that bats better than .260, a reliable outfielder, etc. etc.  

          The point of a trade is that team A takes its strengths or excesses and deals for needs with team B, right?  So a club that doesn’t have a $173M payroll to deal with might not mind taking on a salary, whereas we could stand clearing some dough.  And another team might have depth and want to exchange some of it for on-base skills.

          Does such a deal exist?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it’s worth looking into.  On the other hand, if he suffers another legit injury his value tanks.  It’s not going to get any higher.

  5. KeithS says

    They can’t trade Youkilis, he’s ready to join Gisele as the next Mrs. Brady.
    But I agree-this whole thing usually comes down to a manager and player not getting along and the player pays for it. The most recent example I can think of is how LaRussa didn’t like Colby Rasmus in St. Louis and Rasmus was gone. Of course La Russa had the clout; Valentine can’t match the jewelry yet.   

  6. Jeff D says

    The Sox have a 2013 club option for $13 million.They can see how he and Ortiz do this season then decide which one they want to keep to DH next year. I’ve heard Middlebrooks is good but he hit .161 at Pawtucket last year. Do you think he is ready to be the Sox everyday third baseman right now?

    • Matt says

      No, I agree that Middlebrooks isn’t ready.  And my suggestion is predicated on getting a good return.  But $13M for next year is hefty, you think they’ll exercise that for a guy who is unlikely to play more than 120 games?  I guess they might, but that’s an awful lot of money for less than full season.  I can’t see them extending him either…

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