The Chicago White Sox's trade for third baseman Kevin Youkilis, longtime stalwart and two-time World Series champion for the Boston Red Sox, was such a no-brainer, so overwhelmingly approved by anyone who might care that it almost makes this partially jaded local baseball fan wary. After all, when something is too good to be true, it usually is. As a general rule, this doubles when you're talking about Chicago sports. And yet, when that old, vague adage is the only way to muster up even a semblance of a contrarian opinion, you just might have hit on a great trade.
All hail Kenny Williams, the purported mad scientist who has turned the South Side into his own interactive laboratory for a thesis on unhinged wheeling and dealing. We can't even fault Williams for his errant disregard of the team's farm system this time around. All he gave up was a highly underwhelming 25-year old right-hander and a 28-year old utility player with an OPS of .422. This amounts to highway robbery for Williams and the White Sox. How is it that no other team could have put together a package for Youkilis better than the unwanted discards offered up by Chicago?
Whatever. it's time to rejoice on the South Side. The White Sox just made the type of low risk, high reward trade fans dream about. There is quite literally no downside to this deal, less anyone out there thinks the ghost of Zach Stewart will one day haunt U.S. Cellular Field. The upside? While we'll err on the side of cautious optimism, let's just say there's no way Youkilis can possibly be less potent than what the Sox have been throwing out at third base so far this season.
White Sox third basemen currently boast of triple-slash score of .167/.243/.224. That batting average would be the worst of any position in the majors. As Chuck Garfein mentioned at Comcast SportsNet on Sunday, 19 pitchers in the National League with over 20 at-bats currently have a higher average.
Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson were simply never going to get the job done at the hot corner. With the Sox working themselves into a surprise contender in the lackluster A.L. Central this season, an upgrade at third was all that was really preventing Chicago from turning into division frontrunners. Miraculously, there was a once-proud veteran available, and he was acquired for nothing more than spare parts. More than anything else, the White Sox should be counting their lucky stars. Teams are rarely blessed with a trade as perfect as this one.
And so the White Sox's slow descent into becoming the world's greatest 16-inch softball team is officially underway. What could possibly be more Chicago than that? With Youkilis joining a lineup that already includes Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, the South Side won't be sending over a team to any 400-meter relay. Which is to say: an already slow team just got slower. Fortunately, the myth of "clogging the bases" has been dispelled years ago. Because, with Youkilis now in tow, the White Sox will surely be clogging a lot of bases.
Youkilis was deemed "The Greek God of Walks" in Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" for a reason. This is a player custom built to avoid making outs. Entering this season, Youkilis had posted an on-base percentage more than 100 points higher than his batting average in three straight seasons. It's even more impressive when you consider that his average was above .300 in two of those years.
Youk is a 33-year old who isn't far removed from his days as one of baseball's best hitters. He finished third in MVP voting in 2009 and sixth in 2010. Even last season, he posted a .373 on-base percentage and an .833 OPS. In 2010, he put up the highest OPS of his career at .975. If the White Sox get anything close to that out of Youkilis this season, their offense just received a massive shot in the arm.
There is a reason Youkilis was able to be had for the baseball equivalent of dirt, however. He's been battling injuries all season and is stuck in the worst year of his career. Boston also has a young hotshot in Will Middlebrooks who requires all the playing time the team could find. Yes, Youkilis is hitting just .233/.315/.377 in 146 at-bats this year. Before you say anything, consider that his .692 OPS is still 200 points higher than what White Sox third basemen had been posting in 2012.
It's not a given that Youk will turn it around, but it's certainly possible. Hell, even a .692 OPS out of third will do wonders for Chicago's offense. As Jim Margalus wrote at South Side Sox, it's a trade that makes too much sense. The South Side is giddy right now, and they should be. This is an A+ trade.
It's easy to associate the move for Youkilis with previous trades Williams has engineered for aging superstars Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez. Each of those players were much older and closer to the finish line than Youkilis, though. This latest veteran acquisition figures to have plenty left in the tank.
Sunday just may have been the best day of the season for the White Sox. The team defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 in the series rubber match on a 10th inning single from Eduardo Escobar to take hold of first place again in the Central. They also were gifted a new third baseman who could pay major dividends down the stretch. Now Chicago is greeted with the burden of expectations. Yes, Detroit has been playing better as of late, but it's hard to argue the Sox aren't the team to beat in the A.L. Central at the moment. If Youkilis can produce anywhere close to what he's accustomed to, the South Siders won't have any excuses.