The Kevin Youkilis Trade And All Its Angles

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Yesterday the Red Sox traded 3B/1B Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox for INF/OF Brent Lillibridge and RHP Zach Stewart. Let’s look at the ins and outs.

For the Red Sox:

They had to get Youkilis out of Boston in part because they had nowhere to play him and in part because his time as a centerpiece in the lineup had passed.

Bobby Valentine has gotten the bulk of the blame for Youkilis falling out of favor, but he’s the lightning rod. In truth this became inevitable last September and should’ve been done over the winter.

As GM Ben Cherington said, Will Middlebrooks needs to be in the lineup. He’s injected a desperately needed freshness and enthusiasm into a stagnant atmosphere.

Last season Lillibridge played all over the field defensively making memorable plays and broke out offensively with 13 homers; this season he’s reverted back to normal and his normal—a career slash line of .215/.283/.358—isn’t good.

Stewart has an average fastball and is a 4-A pitcher who the Red Sox can use as an emergency starter or long-man out of the bullpen. He’s going to Triple A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox paid $5.5 million of the $7.6 million Youkilis is guaranteed.

For the White Sox:

The disappointing Tigers have left the AL Central wide open and the White Sox are in surprising contention.

Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson were so bad at third base that 45-year-old manager Robin Ventura could’ve pulled a Roger Dorn and activated himself and couldn’t have been worse.

They needed a third baseman and got a good one for nothing.

For Youkilis:

If he’s healthy, Youkilis can still play. He was stale in Boston, wasn’t in the lineup enough to gain a rhythm and the relationship with Valentine was beyond repair. At age 33, he still has something left. The change-of-scenery plus desire to shove it to the Red Sox will rejuvenate his bat.

Players like Youkilis are judged on the now. When he was hitting, his sour faces were viewed as an intense player hating to fail. When he wasn’t hitting for a losing team and there was a replacement in the wings, he was viewed as an annoying baby.

One year ago today, Youkilis had an .890 OPS, 11 homers and 33 extra base hits. He was an All-Star. The idea that 365 days later the Red Sox would get two journeymen for him and pay him to leave was unthinkable.

But it happened.

It’s best for everyone involved.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Kevin Youkilis

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Name: Kevin Youkilis
Tale of the tape: 1B/3B; 33-years-old; bats right; throws right; 6’1”; 220 lbs.
Contract status: $12 million in 2012; $13 million club option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.

Would the Red Sox trade him?

Barring injury to Will Middlebrooks, Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz, they’re going to trade Youkilis somewhere.

What would they want for him?

Whatever they can get.

Perhaps they can move him for a player who’s not performing well with his current club but could be of use to the Red Sox like a Grant Balfour or Ryan Roberts.

Even if they pay the rest of his 2012 salary, they’re not going to get much of a prospect for him.

Which teams would pursue him?

The Orioles have been mentioned in certain circles, but I doubt the Red Sox are going to trade him in the division.

Casey Kotchman has been a disaster with the Indians and they could slot Youkilis in at first base. The AL Central is winnable for them and Youkilis might be a change-of-scenery player who goes on a tear (if he’s healthy) once he’s out of Boston.

The White Sox have been playing Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson at third base and neither one has hit or played particularly good defense.

It would be an admission that they were wr-wr-wr-wrong (think Fonzie from Happy Days), but the Tigers could get Youkilis and put Miguel Cabrera where he belongs—in the DH spot.

Gaby Sanchez has been atrocious for the Marlins but putting Youkilis in that hair-trigger clubhouse is a bad idea.

The Phillies might make one last desperation move on Youkilis to try and save the season before taking offers on Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.

The Pirates are an intriguing option because they’re hovering around contention and could use a veteran with name recognition and send a signal that they’re serious about winning without giving up the farm.

The Cardinals could use insurance for their questionable status at first base as they wait (hope) for Lance Berkman to come back; David Freese has had frequent injuries in his career and Youkilis is insurance for that.

It would be an odd acquisition for the Cubs, but Theo Epstein knows Youkilis and they’re not giving up on 2013 in spite of the rebuild they’re planning. They can try and steal a Wild Card next season while simultaneously stocking the farm system by trading other veterans on their roster.

Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks could use a corner infield bat.

The Athletics would be a weird landing spot but given the bizarre moves made by Billy Beane—clearing out the house of his starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez—maybe he’d like to get his hands on the player he coveted back when Moneyball was believed to be reality. The Greek God of Walks was almost an A when Beane was taking the Red Sox job and Paul DePodesta was going to be the new A’s GM. Youkilis was the compensation for Beane being let out of his A’s contract. But Beane backed out on the Red Sox and Youkilis became a star in Boston.

The A’s need a first baseman and with their young pitching and needs at first and third base, they could trade for Youkilis and renegotiate his 2013 option to sign him for a couple of years. He might be rejuvenated as a fiery leader and dirt-caked, win at all costs type to show the young team how it’s done.

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Analyzing the Reds-Padres Trade

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The Padres traded pitcher Mat Latos to the Reds for a package of four players—top prospect first baseman/outfielder Yonder Alonso; righty starter Edinson Volquez; minor league catcher Yasmani Grandal; and minor league pitcher Brad Boxberger.

Let’s take a look at the deal for all sides.

For the Reds:

The 24-year-old righty Latos has superstar potential. His 2011 numbers appeared to take a tumble from his 2010 work in which he went 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA. In 2010, he had an excellent walk/strikeout/innings pitched ratio of 50/189/184 and allowed only 150 hits and 16 homers in 31 starts. He finished 8th in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

In 2011, Latos went 9-14 for the 91-game losing Padres; his ERA jumped to 3.47; his walk/strikeout/innings pitched ratio rose to 62/185/194. But his hits allowed and homers stayed consistent with 168 hits and 16 homers in those 194 innings.

The increase in hits allowed can be accounted for by the rise in BAbip from .275 to .288; the Padres defense in 2010 was appreciably better than it was in 2011 and the downgrade with the departures of Adrian Gonzalez, David Eckstein and surprisingly Miguel Tejada truly affected Latos.

The Padres intent in acquiring Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson was to shore up the middle-infield defense, but both players were far worse than the veteran stopgaps they had in 2010.

Brad Hawpe isn’t a first baseman and no one could’ve expected him to replace Gonzalez’s Gold Glove, but that was no consolation to Latos.

He’s been consistent at home (pitching in a cavernous ballpark) and on the road. He’ll allow a few more homers pitching in the hitter-friendly Reds home field, Great American Ballpark, but he’ll also have a better defense behind him and the Reds—second in runs scored in the NL in 2011; 1st in 2010—will be able to provide more runs than the Padres popgun offense did.

Reds manager Dusty Baker is a laid back and easy man to play for and that should suit the free-spirited Latos better than San Diego.

The Reds surrendered a large chunk of their farm system in this trade, but they’re trying to win now; the NL Central is suddenly in play again with the Brewers pending loss of Prince Fielder and likely suspension of Ryan Braun; the Cardinals loss of Albert Pujols and uncertainty with a new, neophyte manager in Mike Matheny.

Reds GM Walt Jocketty is aggressive. The Reds stumbled to 79-83 after winning the division in 2010; they needed a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and got one in Latos.

Alonso played the outfield in the minors, but they saw him as a first baseman—and they proved with a flourish that they aren’t trading Joey Votto; they had no place for Alonso to play. Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco were blocking Grandal; Volquez hasn’t been the same since his 17-game-winning rookie year in 2008, followed by Tommy John surgery and a PED suspension; Boxberger is a minor league righty with impressive strikeout numbers.

The Reds gave up a lot, but they got a lot in return.

Given the cost the Reds just paid in terms of players to get him, if I were Latos I would want to discuss a long term contract to buy out my arbitration years and first couple of free agent seasons as well.

They traded for him and have to keep him.

For the Padres:

One thing you can say about Padres new GM Josh Byrnes is that he’s not afraid to make drastic and risky decisions.

The Padres have enough starting pitching to get by without Latos; their offense in 2011 was predictably rancid; their defense wasn’t what they expected; they’ve already lost closer Heath Bell and replaced him with Huston Street, who’s not as good.

They had to do something to upgrade their offense and they did with Alonso.

Grandal probably won’t be ready to start 2012 in the majors. Volquez is a question mark; Boxberger was relieving in the minors, but might be better-utilized as a starter.

This calls into question what the Padres are going to do with Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was acquired from the Red Sox in the Gonzalez trade and has tremendous power and on-base skills; interestingly, he reminds me of Votto. He batted .141 in 153 plate appearances in the big leagues in 2011, but he’s only 22.

The Padres are desperate for offense and if that means they need to use Alonso in the outfield when Rizzo is ready to play in the big leagues, that’s what they’ll do.

The Padres aren’t in a rebuild-mode, but the NL West is a tough sell for them to contend until they find hitters and improve the defense.

They’re not done because they have a lot more to do to be respectable again.

It’s not a cop-out when analyzing a trade to say it helps both teams if it indeed does help both teams.

The Reds had plenty of offense and needed a 200-inning starter; that he’s 24 and under team control for the foreseeable future makes Latos a good buy for them.

The Padres needed to replenish their farm system and acquire guys who can hit. They have enough pitching and could afford to part with Latos.

In short, the Reds are contenders; the Padres weren’t contending under their prior construction.

Each got what they wanted; whether the trade pans out or not, it’s a logical maneuver and an immediate win for each side.

//

Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.

Sparkle And Fade

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove
  • Prosper and fall:

The most interesting aspect of free agency, for me, isn’t where Cliff Lee and the other biggest names available wind up—the players whom everyone wants—it’s the players who are good and productive but, for one reason or another, fall through the cracks and don’t get the amount of money or years they were expecting.

Players in this category are still available and looking increasingly desperate right now. Rafael Soriano is one such player. He had a fantastic year; he is a marketable commodity as a strikeout reliever who can close; but he’s in fact be hindered by the great year he had and that his agent is Scott Boras and his demands are too great for a team to pay.

It winds up being a catch-22 for a Soriano—he should get a big contract for his performance and abilities, but won’t get the big contract because of the asking price, that the signing club is going to lose a draft pick and the market for relief pitchers has essentially crashed as building a bullpen has been put into greater statistical and practical context.

It doesn’t help Soriano that his reputation isn’t great. He gives up too many homers and gacks up big games; plus, as Bill Madden wrote in the NY Daily News yesterday, Soriano refused to pitch for more than one inning several times for the Rays in 2010. The combination is not a winning one for an iffy performer with an injury history and high financial demands.

You see it with other free agents who should probably be more in demand than they are.

Adam LaRoche just signed a 2-year, $16 million contract with an option for 2013. LaRoche is a consistent all-around player from whom you know what you’ll get: 25 homers, 60 extra base hits and adequate-to-good defense. The Nats probably could’ve gotten LaRoche for a little less money, but the contract’s not ridiculous considering they needed another bat and after the loony contract they gave Jayson Werth. Why run the risk of LaRoche going to Seattle or some other bat-hungry team?

Every year Orlando Hudson finds himself looking for work and taking a short-term contract. He’s touted by the stat zombies as a plus defender and productive hitter, but the statistical analysis and resulting financial valuations may actually be harming Hudson’s hopes for a long-term contract. Those that are signing him know his options are limited; that he’s injury-prone; and the numbers are such that a value is placed on his services; teams are unwilling to go beyond that because of his numbers and history of being on the outside looking in as January/February rolls around. Hudson got 2 years from the Padres with an option, but is only guaranteed $11.5 million.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from Werth’s $126 million insanity.

  • Speaking of the other end of the spectrum:

Of course there are players who take advantage of their impending free agency by having a career year and getting paid as a result of it. Adrian Beltre, A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano come to mind.

Beltre has had career years in two of his seasons prior to free agency and gotten paid. Like Hudson, Beltre is beloved in stat zombie circles for his defense and bat; after having an MVP-quality season for the Red Sox, Beltre just signed a 5-year, $80 million contract with the Rangers.

In 2008, Burnett won 18 games for the Blue Jays and, more importantly, stayed healthy knowing that he could opt out of his contract. He did and got a bigger deal from the Yankees.

Pavano won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004, signed with the Yankees and subsequently, rather than pitch, he went to the beach and the doctor. (He might’ve been better served to find a doctor on the beach, but that’s neither here nor there.) After rejuvenating his career with the Twins, Pavano won’t get the same money he did from the Yankees, but he’s going to get a multi-year contract in the $22-25 million range from someone. Considering his reputation after the Yankees debacle, that’s great for him.

For a long time, I’ve seen this type of behavior as a negative; now, I’m thinking it may not be as bad as it looks on the surface. While a player raising his game when money is on the line could be judged as untoward and self-serving, as long as the club knows what they’re getting, they can’t complain about it.

The Yankees didn’t know what they were unwrapping with the Pavano package and that’s why I’ve never given them a hard time about his signing. Had they not given Pavano the money, the Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners were prepared to do so. The Yankees did know what they were getting with Burnett and this is why the ripping into him is unfair. He is what he is and nothing more.

Would this type of seasonlong pressure play bode well for a post-season calmness that would result in success? Players have raised their games in the post-season. Orel Hershiser, Lenny Dykstra, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart—all have reputations as “money” players in the playoffs.

It might be the magnitude of the moment or the desire for fame and fortune that have spurred them. Will Beltre be a similar player? We don’t know because he’s only been in the playoffs once in his career—in 2004—and went 4 for 15 in the Dodgers 4 game NLDS loss to the Cardinals.

Pavano has been very good in the playoffs; Burnett’s been Burnett—up and down.

While the “big free agent year” followed by a lull can be seen as a profound negative, judging it from a different and more realistic angle, said success in a pressure year could be a portent of success in the playoffs. Finding something a player can do well and accepting him for that isn’t such a bad thing; in fact, it’s necessary and can help a club win a championship.

Unless something big happens, I’ll do the mail tomorrow.