Yesterday the seemingly inevitable happened. The Boston Red Sox finally parted ways with 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis after a flurry of rumors. In return the Red Sox received pitcher Zach Steweart and utility player Brent Lillibridge from the Chicago White Sox. Youkilis was struggling mightily for the Red Sox and Will Middlebrooks is ready to take over third base. On the flip side, the Chicago White Sox were in desperate need of a third baseman. Brent Morel was terrible and the Orlando Hudson experiment didn't work out at all. It's possible that a change of scenery is all that Youkilis needed.
From 2006-2010 Kevin Youkilis was a sure bet to finish with an OBP that ranged from .380-.415 and with above average to excellent power. Defensively he was also one of the better first baseman at first. Then all of a sudden something happened during August of last year. His slash line for the month was a paltry .209/.306/.442 and his offense was all but gone. He did have a wRC+ of 99 but that essentially made him league average offensively, something he wasn't accustomed to being. In September it got worse. Not only did his slash line fall to .167/.302/.222 but Youkilis also saw a sharp spike in his K%, something that's carried over into this year. He's striking out 23% of the time and he's walking in only 8% of his at-bats. Normally plate discipline is a big part of his game, but not this year.
What made the White Sox interested in him then? Two names. Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson. Through 125 plate appearances Brent Morel has been brutal to say the least. His slash line is about as bad as it gets: .177/.225/.195 (13 wRC+). He's only walking in 5% of the time and his striking out in one-third of his plate appearances. With everything taken into consideration he's been worth an abysmal -.6 WAR.
Orlando Hudson hasn't been much better though. The White Sox signed Hudson on May 23 but since June 1st he's been absolutely terrible. He's essentially been as bad as Morel. During the month of June his line has looked like the following: .164/.215/.279 and good for 13 wRC+. As a whole his season has been marginally better. .194/.254/.303 (51) is what he has to date and like Morel he has also been worth -.6 WAR.
Youkilis should improve sooner rather than later, at least for the White Sox sake. He's not typically a groundball hitter, but this year he's hitting groundballs 50% of the time, that's 15% more than his career average. As a result he's hitting flyballs only 29% of the time compared to 43% of the time.
The Red Sox paid $5.5 of the remaining $7 million left on Youkilis' contract for the year and it's doubtful he'll finish the year this bad. If he gives the Sox 1-1.5 WAR they should be pretty happy with themselves.
We've talked about why Chicago wanted Youkilis, but what made Boston want to get rid of him? One main reason is that they wanted to give Will Middlebrooks everyday playing time at third and allow Adrian Gonzalez to play full time at first, rather than splitting time in right field.
During his time in the majors, Will Middlebrooks has looked impressive but it's unlikely that he'll be a 4-5 WAR player. He's shown below league average discipline at the plate but his .257 ISO is nice to see, even though it's almost certain that he'll regress. He's also gotten a lot of help from his .380 BABIP, a number that is likely not close to his true playing level. Allowing Middlebrooks to play everyday certainly helps him gain experience and it's possible that he could be the answer long-term.
Zach Stewart isn't likely to be a player that will be very good, but he does have potential to possibly come out of the bullpen. He has great control, walking 3% of batters so far and is a groundball pitcher in the true sense of the word. He's induced groundballs 51% of the time so far this year and got groundballs 49% of the time last year. He doesn't have a great fastball, it tops out between 89-90 MPH but he is someone that could be of some value down the road.
Brent Lillibridge isn't anything to get excited over either. Besides his 1.3 WAR season last year he's been a below replacement level player. Cody Ross just came off the DL and eventually Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury will follow. When that time comes Lillibridge will likely be behind the likes of Daniel Nava as well as Ryan Sweeney, who's also injured. It's interesting to think about if the Red Sox could have gotten a little better of a deal, but in the meantime they let a young third baseman play everyday and allow their 1B to actually play 1B. There was a time where Youkilis was one of the better first baseman in the league, but it looks like that time has passed.