It seemed like only yesterday when the Boston Red Sox completed one of the more remarkable baseball redemption stories in recent memory by winning the 2013 World Series — but are there pages for another chapter with a familiar face?
Given the less-than-amicable way that the reigning champs parted ways with Kevin Youkilis, you’d figure it’d be a long shot at best; but then again, even teams at the top have their own set of needs to fill in order to stay up there, and what the Red Sox need in 2014 might just be in line with what the veteran can provide.
In particular, that’d be help at the hot corner, where Boston ultimately ended up with subpar production (23rd-ranked 0.0 fWAR, .250/.300/.392 triple-slash, 22 HR over 844 PA) in year two of the Will Middlebrooks era.
To put it in perspective, the Red Sox’ best third baseman in 2013 wasn’t actually a third baseman at all, but rather shortstop Jose Iglesias (.783 OPS over 115 at-bats) who is no longer with the team. Middlebrooks was slowed by both ineffectiveness and injury, and while projected 2014 shortstop (assuming Stephen Drew goes elsewhere) Xander Bogaerts filled in there for nine games, he struggled at the plate at the position (.511 OPS over 20 at-bats).
Meanwhile, the team used a mix of Brandon Snyder (17 games), Pedro Ciriaco (10) and Brock Holt (20) there, all of whom were below-replacement level players. Needless to say, it’s far from the ideal solution, and while the Red Sox are certainly hoping that Middlebrooks will return to his rookie form in 2012 that saw him put up 1.9 fWAR in just 286 PA, it’s a significant gamble to make as the depth at third simply isn’t very good right now.
That is not to say that Youkilis is a very apparent solution either, of course.
After all, he was the guy that was chased out of Boston thanks to the emergence of Middlebrooks, and the 34-year-old’s 2013 season was even more of a broken mess. He was healthy enough to take the field for just 28 games and 118 PA, putting together a dismal .219/.305/.343 line before being shut down in June with a bad back that led to his first below-replacement value season in the bigs at -0.4 fWAR.
So yeah, I think you could say that he was overpaid at $12 million in 2013, and the New York Yankees would probably agree.
Still, the fact that this was his first really poor season says something, doesn’t it? Even if there are health questions abound (he hasn’t played more than 122 games in any of his last four seasons) and that his skills are probably on the decline, this is ultimately a player who has been consistently productive in his time at the bigs. Decline trends aren’t straightforward, and the fact that Youk’s value is pretty much at rock bottom right now could make him a fit in Boston.
The Red Sox couldn’t totally sell him on the idea of playing second fiddle to Middlebrooks as the backup the first time around, but after the worst season of his career that will see him being a hard sell as a starter even to the most third base-needy teams, you’d have to think that there’d be less resistance now.
There, the former (and some would argue still) fan favorite’s flexibility could come into play in a bench role, as he could occasionally spell Middlebrooks (especially if he struggles), DH or even play a little bit of first base.
Given the reduced workload this would entail, it would potentially be beneficial for Youkilis’ health as well; and if he can find a fit as a sort of super-utility bench piece in the final phase of his career, who knows? Maybe there’s another multi-year contract down the line before he rides off into the sunset.
And considering that Youkilis would only command a short-term make-good deal with a salary nowhere near what it would be in his days as a regular starter, it’d be a low-risk move for the Red Sox with the benefit of shoring up infield depth as they prepare to defend their World Series title.
There’s probably some lingering dissent there, but it wasn’t too long ago that they were a good fit for each other. If anything, maybe the Red Sox and Youkilis can at least do this goodbye thing properly the second time around, yes?