Being that he filled in reasonably to finish off 2012, Kevin Youkilis seems an easy answer as far as plugging the third base gap again in 2013. There are two rather large problems with this, though. First, Boston was footing most of the bill. The White Sox were only responsible for about $1M of the $6.62M he was owed at the time, and of course for the $1M buyout that would result in not picking up his $13M option for 2013. Nobody, probably not even Kevin Youkilis would make the argument that he is worth the kind of money he would have been making through the option. However he’s worth something, and likely less than he and his agent think. I have yet to see what his asking price is, but unless it’s similar to what the White Sox doled out last season, it’s probably not worth giving him a go.
Which brings us to problem #2. Kevin Youkilis is old; much older in body than in age, as evidenced in his declining performance over the past few years. He hasn’t played 140 games in a season since 2008 and hasn’t cracked 125 over the last 3. It’s clear that his body doesn’t agree with playing third base at all. The first time he’d even made 100 starts at third was 2011, having spent most of his time at first, with the occasional appearance on the other corner. What I’m saying is, Youkilis isn’t even a third baseman. He’s a first baseman that can play third, kind of sort of, if you need him to. In 2010 he had an OPS of 975. In 2011, when he began getting beat up by the hot corner, it dropped to .833, and last season .745. He’s going the wrong way, and putting him at a position that takes a large toll on his body is not going to help him turn that around, if he’s even capable of doing so any longer.
Baseball-Reference’s Similarity Scores show Trot Nixon and Rusty Greer as the players most similar to Youkilis at his current age. Though this isn’t really a predictive tool, it can be telling. The story it tells is not a good one. Since Youkilis just completed his age 33 season, let’s compare slash lines at that age for the three players:
Greer is definitely subject to sample size bias since he only played in 51 games that year. Unfortunately those were his last 51 and there is nothing else to compare after that. Nixon played in 99 games, which is 23 fewer games than Youkilis. We’re looking fairly similar until you notice Nixon’s anemic power in the .336 slugging. Youkilis had homerun numbers in line with his previous 2 seasons, but still well below that of the years preceding the third base switch. If we play this comparison game again next year with Nixon we may run into an issue. He played in just 11 games the year he turned 34, and that was it. You see where I’m going with this? Looking at these two players doesn’t tell me that Kevin Youkilis is going to be next to useless next year and out of baseball after that, but watching him gingerly walk down those steps of decline over the last few seasons tells me that it’s certainly a possibility. With age and injury staring an organization in the face it’s tough to round up the dough to sign a player when you can easily roll the dice with league minimum guys within, or sign a lesser known free agent for a much lesser sum.
I enjoyed the time that Kevin Youkilis spent in a White Sox uniform, even if mostly because he was for the most part replacing an empty space, but it would be wise for the White Sox to move on.