Deciding Youkilis’s Future

This guest post was written by Matt Collins of Red Stockings Thoughts, a blog about the Red Sox.  This is his second guest post for Fire Brand of the American League.

He is perhaps most well-known for his insane ability to get on base, but Kevin Youkilis has been an extremely productive player for the Red Sox for the past six years in most facets of the game. Of course, it was his ability to get on base that first attracted him to many executives across the league (including Billy Beane, which was much-publicized in Moneyball), and earned him the nickname “The Greek God of Walks.” Since 2006, his first full season in the bigs, the league-average walk rate was always somewhere in the 8%-range. Youk, on the other hand, has excelled with a career rate of 12.6%, and has never had a season under 10%. However, the long-time Red Sox is getting up in age, next year will be his age-33 season, and his future is an interesting thing to look at for the front office.

Back in the winter of 2009, after Youkilis had completed a breakout 5.9 fWAR season, the Red Sox signed him to a four year contract extension that included a team option for a fifth season.  With 2012 being the fourth year of his contract, he’s guaranteed to be with the Sox for at least one more year. The question moving forward is: What is the best way to put the aging third baseman in the best position to succeed? To me, there are two good options and one that’s less then advantageous.

The first option is to do nothing. If you bring back David Ortiz to continue DHing, there’s nowhere to move Youkilis as long as both Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez are healthy. While they’ll still get good production from DH and first base, Youkilis’s performance noticeably took a hit this year when forced to move back to third base full-time for the first time since 2005. This season, you could tell the physical strains of third base took a toll on his aging body.  After playing in 135 games during his first four seasons as a full-time player, he played in just 120 games in 2011. He also saw his strikeout rate rise to 19.3%, 1.2% higher than his career average and a 3.9% jump from 2010. His power also fell off, with his .202 ISO basically matching his career average, but the average was brought down by the beginning of his career. From 2008-2010, he’d posted .257, .242, and .257 ISOs, respectively. We also saw his wOBA and wRC++ fall below his career average, and well below the marks he set in the 2007-2009 seasons.

The point that I am trying make with all of these declining stats is that he may be too old to play third base at this stage of his career. UZR may not be the best measure to look at for a single season, but if you compare his 2011 season to his 2005 (last full season at the position), he went from a +7.0 UZR to a -2.3, showing a possible lack of range that he used to possess.

The other option I would seriously consider is to not re-signing David Ortiz. I have heard that Ortiz is looking for something in the 2 year, $20 million range. And that number could even be increased with the way this year’s market has been going. ($4.5 million guaranteed for Juan Rivera? Really LA?) Ortiz had a great year last year, but I have my doubts that he will be able to repeat those results for two straight years; especially considering he’ll be 36 and 37 in those years. For most players, especially those with his body type, these are typically the years decline really starts to kick in. One thing about Ortiz’s season last year was that he put up a career-low K-rate of 13.4%, and I just do not see him keeping that up. In fact, the two years before last, he put up K-rates of 23.9% and 21.4% respectively, so I’d expect him to at least regress back towards his career average of 18.4%. He also owned a .321 BABIP, which isn’t ridiculously high, but is significant enough that regression back towards .300 will have at least some effect on his final production. Now, don’t get me wrong. Ortiz can still be a productive player. However, if the Sox don’t choose to resign him, they can have Youkilis slide over to the DH role. This should help him stay healthy and fresh through the whole 162 game grind, fill in once and a while at first and third, and also free up some money to possibly sign one of the right fielders on the market such as Grady Sizemore, Michael Cuddyer, or Carlos Beltran. The platoon of Jed Lowrie and Mike Aviles would presumably slide over to third. The production from those two will most likely not match that of Ortiz, but if the Sox could grab Beltran, his production will outweigh the young guys in place in right field now, and it could all even out.

The third option, trading Youkilis is possible, but it seems unlikely. Based on the rumors I have heard, I don’t think they will get any good value going that route. With that being said, I could live with either of the first two options. If the Sox can get Ortiz on a reasonable one year deal, they could jump all over that and live with Youkilis’ somewhat diminished performance at third base. However, I am more of a proponent on the second option. I’m not sure how Youkilis would react to being made a DH, but I’m sure he’d suck it up,  Plus, he could easily fill in for Gonzalez and Lowrie/Aviles once and a while to fill any inner-defensive needs. Also, with the expected bounce-back of Carl Crawford, a possible new right fielder, and a rejuvenated Youkilis; the Red Sox offense should still be an elite force even with the departure of David Ortiz. Whatever the team decides to do with their veteran third baseman, it is starting to become apparent that his time with this team may be in its last final years.  As a result, the team should make one final sacrifice to the Greek God of Walks.

Matt Collins writes about the Red Sox at Red Stockings Thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter @Red_SoxThoughts.

Categories: Boston Red Sox David Ortiz Kevin Youkilis

13 Responses to “Deciding Youkilis’s Future” Subscribe

  1. Walt in Maryland November 16, 2011 at 11:56 AM #

    Terrific post. I agree Option No. 2 is best, and would add an additional reason. It's quite possible that Will Middlebrooks will be ready to come up and play third some tme during the 2012 season. Having a Lowrie/Aviles platoon at 3B would clear a path for him. And Youkilis should hit better than he did last year if he isn't playing the field every day.

    • Matt Collins November 16, 2011 at 1:48 PM #

      If Middlebrooks ends up tearing up Pawtucket, I can see that happening. But barring any injuries, I think the most likely scenario is that he could end up taking over 3rd base full time in 2013.

  2. Mr Punch November 16, 2011 at 12:36 PM #

    I agree with this analysis. What makes the decision difficult is, of course, that Ortiz had a very good year in '11 and Youk didn't. To my mind it comes down to a budgetary question: How much will the Sox commit to Papi given his likelihood of significant decline? One year, okay, but two? If they bring him back, the real situation becomes, probably, a combination of the first two options, with Youk playing some 3B and some DH (and providing depth at 1B as well). If Option 3 doesn't seem like a good idea, Ortiz becomes the primary issue.

    • Matt Collins November 16, 2011 at 1:51 PM #

      I agree with you as far as the one-year contract vs. two-year. Ortiz is old and a big guy, with some unsustainable stats from 2011. There's no way I sign a guy like him to a multi year deal at this stage of his career.

  3. Cory November 16, 2011 at 4:56 PM #

    I favor option two. Let Youk be our DH. I think he could put up Ortiz type numbers from the position. Both Aviles and Lowrie can hit lefties so I say we grab another platoon player who can hit righties (maybe Wilson Betemit). Then sign Beltran and that's our line-up.

    From there we try to get Mark Buehrle and sure up our BP (can we please get an establish lefty specialist).

  4. kahlil November 16, 2011 at 5:43 PM #

    youk is not going anywhere unless a team approaches charington with a godfather offer. the plan has been that gonzo (or tex) was to be obtained, youk moves to third until middlebrooks is ready then moves to dh as papi gracefully exits. most of the contracts line up that way.

  5. stoveleague November 16, 2011 at 6:58 PM #

    The only reason for trading Youk is also why the Sox wouldn't get anything close to full value for him; he's been breaking down the past couple of years. If he'd been healthy and putting up numbers similar to his career average ones, it wouldn't even be a discussion. Considering he's untradable, let's hang on to him and hope injuries — and not age – have been the primary factor in his dips.
    Everybody loves the guy too, so that doesn't hurt.

    • Gerry November 16, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

      Agree. BTW if Ortiz returns, and contract discussions are currently in play, I see no reason for a "big bat" in RF. This is already the top one or two offensive teams in baseball, with Youk, PD, Gonzo, Scoot, Lowrie, Kalish, Linares all injured and CC drastically underperforming. The Sox should hit even better in 2012, especially with additions of Lavarnway, maybe Middlebrook.
      What is needed in RF is good defense. Cuddyer and Willingham are weak, Sizemore is a ? And his arm does not belong in RF. So Beltran, in the neighborhood of $3/45 is the option, despite HIS age and HIS injury concerns. Reddick is, in fact, the best defensive option at this time. Did you see him throw out those runners with perfect strikes to 3b and Home? Shades of Dewey. And he has the most experience in that tough RF, and was mentored by JD. Kalish, Lin, Linares are all better defenders than anyone but Beltre, and their bats are good to very good. By going with Beltran, the only option being discussed who is a good fielder, completely blocks Dewey Reddick, Trot Kalish, Juan Carlos the bat and Jose Iglesias Lin (the
      best defender of them all). Keep Papi, expect Youk to bounce back and also get plenty of rest with Lowrie's backing, and keep the doors open for thes homegrown outfielders.

      • Matt Collins November 16, 2011 at 8:36 PM #

        Agreed if Ortiz comes back they don't need to sign a RF. My point was, if you let Ortiz walk, take the money saved on him and use it towards a Right fielder. The offense is likely to be one of the elite either way.

        • Gerry November 19, 2011 at 2:08 AM #

          We are in agreement then, sort of. It appears that Papi will be back on some kind of deal, and it appears that Youk will hold 3b with Lowrie's backing. If he produces and stay healthy, he may be back in '13 to mentor Middlebrook and move into that DH role. However, with all the talk about 1b opening in Cincinatti this or next year, Youk may be able to follow his heart home and play a few more years in the NL as a home town hero. But even if Papi walks, with the advent of Lavarnway, a confident Salty, the return of Crawford, a screwless PD, a strong-shouldered Gonzo, a healthy Youk getting 50-60 games as DH, this offense will still be monster enough to allow Reddick/Kallish/Lin/Linares to develop as home grown outfielders. Of course, Yoennis Cespedes could change all this with a stroke of the pen, in which case Papi + Cespedes would be added to that incredible lineup.

  6. Mat t Lawlor November 19, 2011 at 9:39 AM #

    Sign Papi for 1 yr with a 1 yr option. Sign Beltran, Burele or Harden and Harang , Bell or Cordero. Keep our Prospects for the future be it on the team or in a mid-season trade. Youk stays or trade him for left handed reliever specialist.

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