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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Soxfinger, Tony Tantrum And Another Casualty Of Moneyball

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Let’s do this in order.

First the White Sox traded Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays for veteran righty reliever Jason Frasor and 25-year-old minor league righty Zach Stewart.

This is not a “give-up on the season” trade by White Sox GM Kenny Williams (aka the James Bond villain known as Soxfinger). He dumped Teahen’s salary and gave up a pitcher in Jackson who they had no intention of keeping. Jackson’s good, but he’s represented by Scott Boras and the White Sox payroll is already bursting at the seams. It made sense to get a veteran reliever in Frasor to bolster the White Sox leaky bullpen.

In analyzing Stewart apart from what I can see in his minor league numbers, I’ll say this: it’s unwise to bet against Williams’s pitcher-recognition skills. It was Williams who acquired both Gavin Floyd and John Danks when neither were on anyone else’s radar; yes, he made the expensive and retrospectively mistaken decision to acquire Jake Peavy, but Peavy is a former NL Cy Young Award winner—it just hasn’t worked out. You can give him a hard time for trading Daniel Hudson to get Jackson, but it’s not something to go crazy over.

Clearly Williams sees something in Stewart to inspire him to make this trade.

Teahen is another failure from the 2002 Billy Beane/Athletics “Moneyball” draft in which Beane and his staff were supposedly “counting cards” in selecting players.

No commentary needed as to how that worked out.

After that was done, the Blue Jays spun Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson and Octavio Dotel to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters.

Miller is supposedly going to to the White Sox.

Let’s find a rational explanation. Or two.

Once Jonny Gomes was off the market, did the Blue Jays feel they had to make a move on Rasmus? (Satirical.)

Was Joel Sherman wrong in the assertion that the Cardinals were asking for a “ton” in a Rasmus deal? (Likely.)

Did the Cardinals judge this return as a “ton”? (Possible.)

Or is it all of the above? (Hedging.)

All kidding(?) aside, this trade has Tony LaRussa‘s fingerprints all over it.

The curmudgeonly baseball manager/non-practicing lawyer that LaRussa is, he’ll deftly separate himself from the trade and deflect responsibility and evidence in all directions to save the man in the mirror.

It turns out my repeated statements that LaRussa’s doghouse was “entrance only” were mistaken; there’s an exit, but it happens to lead to another town on a questionable exchange policy.

LaRussa wanted Rasmus gone and this is another case in which the front office is appeasing the manager to try and win now.

That doesn’t make wrong the analysis that Rasmus was never going to fulfill his promise in St. Louis; nor that his “stage-father” Tony Rasmus wasn’t going to back away from interfering in his son’s career to let the Cardinals do what they wanted. It’s just the way it is.

On the surface, it’s a weak trade for the Cardinals.

Jackson’s a rental; as mentioned before, his agent is Boras and the Cardinals have got to save their money to keep Albert Pujols. Jackson’s a good pitcher and will help them.

The key for the Cardinals will be Rzepczynski. He’s spent this season in the bullpen and that may be where he is for the rest of the season with the Cardinals having traded Miller, but he’s got starter stuff and a gentle delivery that bodes well for his durability—he reminds me of Mark Mulder when he was in his prime. Had Mulder not had the hip problems, I believe his shoulder would’ve stayed in shape to continue pitching as well as he did for the Athletics early in his career and not had its premature end.

Patterson and Dotel are veterans from whom you know what to expect—such as that is.

The Blue Jays got themselves an everyday center fielder in Rasmus who won’t be saddled with the pressures he felt in St. Louis. A clean start might be exactly what he (and his dad) need to fulfill his promise.

For the White Sox, this is a move for the now and the future; for the Cardinals, it’s a move to improve immediately; and for the Blue Jays, they’re hoping to be in a legitimate position to contend in 2012—and I think they will be.

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