By now you have all probably heard the trade news: the two pairs of Sox have made a trade between themselves – and Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, is on his way to the South Side of Chicago. What does it mean for the Tigers?
Lets get one thing straight right off the bat: there are few teams that wouldn’t be improved by adding the Kevin Youkilis of old (or even the diminished Youkilis of 2011) but the Boston Red Sox, thanks to hot-hitting rookie Wil Middlebrooks, are one of those few. That has to come with an enormous caveat: there is no reason to assume that the Youkilis that we see over the season’s second half will be any better than the aging and injury-riddled shell from the first half, and there are few teams that would be improved by adding that Youkilis. But… the Chicago White Sox are one of those few.
Before landing on the DL, White Sox Third Sacker Brent Morel posted an OPS of .420 and struck out 31% of the time. Remind you of any Tigers you know? Since then they have given some time to scrap heap pickup Orlando Hudson (a player the Tigers did not see as a potential upgrade over Raburn at second) who has given them a .533 OPS and Eduardo Escobar with a .540. The White Sox’ collective .466 OPS from third base is not just the lowest in the majors at that position, it is the lowest in the majors at any position. [For the record, Tigers second basemen have a .541 OPS, which is also near the bottom at any position.] The shell of Kevin Youkilis has an OPS of .670 – and though it would only vault the White Sox into a tie with the Cubs for 22nd, obviously even that would be a tremendous upgrade over .466 and 30th.
So should the Tigers feel threatened? Of course they should – at least a little. This is the idea sort of trade to make, in at least one sense, for a playoff contender – find the deepest hole and fill it with something cheap. And make no mistake – relative to what he was able to produce over his career and even last year, Youkilis came cheap. Even if he doesn’t turn his season around, Youkilis will add a win or two to the White Sox tally by season’s end just by staying healthy and keeping guys like Hudson out of the lineup. IF, and that’s a big IF, Youkilis were able to find some sort of fountain of youth (which is market price suggests few GMs see much hope for) this undoubtedly would turn the Central race on its head – but there probably isn’t much more chance of that than of Orlando Hudson doing the same. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a trade that the Tigers must answer: if any real solution to the Tigers specific problems were out there to be had, they would have pounced on it anyway no matter what the White Sox did or did not do.
The one thing that might make this less of a coup for the White Sox is the nature of the price that they paid: major league talent – something you don’t typically want to give up when making deadline deals in pennant races. The Red Sox are, themselves, intent on winning a wild card berth this season – they just don’t see any reason to give at-bats to Youkilis instead of Middlebrooks. High-ceiling A-ball guys might appeal to other sellers like the Astros, but not the Red Sox. So the White Sox didn’t give up anything special: reliever Zach Stewart and utility guy Brent Lillibridge – but losing those guys creates two holes on the big league roster that will have to be filled by guys a little less talented. Maybe – just maybe – the White Sox will come to regret that, particularly if Youkilis isn’t able to stay in the lineup.