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June 24, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Youkilis Changes Sox

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
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Traded 3B-R Kevin Youkilis and $5.5 million to the White Sox for RHP Zach Stewart and UTL-R Brent Lillibridge. [6/24]

The Will Middlebrooks Era is officially underway in Boston. Youkilis fell from grace quickly thanks to injuries, a slow start, and Middlebrooks’ hot start. With no position for Youkilis to play most days, it was only a matter of time before Boston pulled the trigger on a trade. The Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Pirates, and Indians were mentioned, amongst others, but in the end, the White Sox won out.

Stewart, formerly a third-round pick, will join his fourth organization. The story is simple: his stuff is better than his results. He relies on a two-pitch attack: a heavy, 90-mph sinker and a slider with two-plane movement. Although Stewart has started in the past, that ship has seemingly sailed, leaving him stranded on the Island of Middle Relievers. A spot start earlier in the week saw him yield nine hits, six runs, and one home runs against the Cubs in 5 2/3 innings of work. The early indications are that Stewart will head to the minors

Lillibridge, meanwhile, joins the big league bench. A capable defender at multiple positions, Lillibridge also shows good sense on the bases, at least during the run of play. Lillibridge would be more valuable if not for his bat, save 216 plate appearances last season. He strikes out about 30 percent of the time and doesn’t walk or hit for enough power to atone for it.

If that seems like an uninspiring return, it’s because it is. Writing that Boston dumped Youkilis might be a bit rash, but they did trade him for two marginal talents. The grim reality for grieving Red Sox fans is that this was probably the best offer on the table.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired 3B-R Kevin Youkilis and $5.5 million from the Red Sox for RHP Zach Stewart and UTL-R Brent Lillibridge. [6/24]
Designated OF-L Kosuke Fukudome for assignment. [6/22]

Are Youkilis’ days as a productive big-league player over? One scout, as quoted by Danny Knobler in mid-June, seemed to think so: “For what he costs, he can’t do anything.”

Receiving a touch more than $5.5 million in cash in addition to Youkilis mitigates the cost factor almost entirely (Youkilis had roughly $6 million remaining on his 2012 contract), but there is still reason for apprehension in Youkilis’ statistical profile. His contact rate is a career worst, as are his strikeout and walk rates (down to an unfathomable 8.7 percent for a man nicknamed the Greek God of Walks) and Isolated Power (.134). Given Youkilis’ age (33) and injury history (13 entries on his injury report in the past 365 days alone), there is reason to think that no upside exists.

That analysis, however, ignores factors that make this a worthwhile gamble for Kenny Williams. These factors start with the opportunity cost. The White Sox are unlikely to miss Stewart or Lillibridge anytime soon. That Youkilis, who seemed to clash with Bobby Valentine throughout the season, gets away from what had become a land of discontent towards him should also prove beneficial. Then you have the most obvious angle: the White Sox do not need vintage Youkilis in order to gain value. Orlando Hudson, the incumbent everyday third baseman, is hitting .193/.254/.304 on the season, and that’s buoyed by his time in the NL with the Padres. Youkilis is hitting .225/.311/.359.

Chicago is in the thick of the playoff hunt, so why wouldn’t Williams make this deal and potentially increase his chances? Besides, with one of the game’s best medical staffs in tow and the resurrections of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios underneath their belts this season, would a Youkilis revival surprise anyone?

An industry friend proposes this concept: some players are prone to success in one league more so than the other. Fukudome might become an example for his argument. After spending parts of four seasons in the National League and hitting .262/.369/.403, Fukudome came to the American League and rattled off a .237/.299/.345 line over 309 plate appearances. Is it the league or the player? Fukudome’s contact and strikeout-to-walk ratios were close to normal this season (albeit in a small sample). What stands out is a complete power outage. One extra-base hit in 51 plate appearances would make it tough to employ Fukudome even if he had a better batting average than the .171 figure he sports. An oblique injury landed Fukudome on the disabled list for most of June. Upon his return, the White Sox considered it time to bid adieu.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Placed RHP Bartolo Colon on the 15-day disabled list. [6/23]
Placed RHP Brandon McCarthy on the 15-day disabled list. [6/24]
Designated RHP Danny Farquhar for assignment. [6/24]
Purchased the contract of RHP A.J. Griffin from Triple-A Sacramento. [6/24]

Griffin invariably will draw comparisons to Joe Blanton. Both are bulbous righties with more command than stuff. Griffin’s velocity sits in the high-80s or low-90s, depending on the wind, and his best pitch is a changeup. He makes up for his shortcomings by displaying excellent command and pitching aptitude. Griffin should develop into a back-of-the-rotation option. Or, as Jason Wojciechowski pointed out, maybe not:

The first thing that jumps off his stat sheet is his walk rate: in two and a half minor league seasons, he's walked just 53 of the 1126 batters he's faced, a 4.7% rate. He's struck out over five times as many and has mostly kept his homer rate under control. 

The thing about this kind of profile is that you worry about how it translates to the big leagues. Strong pitching acumen with just decent stuff can carry you a long way in the minors against immature and/or untalented hitters. In the majors, when the batter you're facing has stood in against the best stuff and the best sequencing in the world, your tricks might not look so intimidating.

Reasonable points throughout, but you can’t blame the A’s for giving Griffin a shot. Their rotation already features Tyson Ross and Travis Blackley, they don’t seem comfortable promoting Brad Peacock to the majors just yet, and the other alternative on the 40-man roster is Graham Godfrey. There’s a decent chance Griffin isn’t a useful big-league starting pitcher; there’s a great chance Godfrey isn’t.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Claimed INF-S Brooks Conrad off waivers from the Brewers. [6/22]
Designated INF-S Drew Sutton for assignment. [6/22]
Activated INF-R Jeff Keppinger from the 15-day disabled list. [6/22]
Placed OF-L Matt Joyce on the 15-day disabled list. [6/22]
Recalled RHP Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham. [6/22]
Optioned OF-L Rich Thompson to Triple-A Durham. [6/22]

No ballplayer nicknamed “Raw Dog” is likely to exude craft*. Conrad is no different. He relies upon his bat, not his glove, and bears a striking resemblance to Sutton. Both are switch-hitting utility infielders without good defensive reputations. The difference is that Conrad offers more than Sutton does of the three true outcomes. He will strike out more, walk more, and hit more home runs (and hit more extra-base hits in general). In retrospect, the Rays’ interest in Conrad isn’t surprising. Tampa Bay tried adding Conrad during the offseason, but he opted instead for Milwaukee, citing playing time concerns. Conrad should be thankful for a big league job whether he receives burn or not.

*Chipper Jones bestowed the nickname upon Conrad because he does not wear batting gloves, according to Kevin Orris of Capitol Avenue Club.

The Rays have two batters with True Averages of more than .290: Evan Longoria and Joyce. Both are now on the disabled list, leaving Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena as the team’s best hitters. After them, try Elliot Johnson and Jose Lobaton. At least Keppinger is back; he returned with a five-hit game on Saturday. 

Sutton was claimed off waivers by the Pirates.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired RHP Sean O’Sullivan from the Royals for cash considerations. [6/21]

Injuries have led to this. O’Sullivan is a mediocrity, but he’s one that’s at least capable of starting a game if necessary. If that sounds like faint praise, consider these notable quotables from O’Sullivan’s past three BP Annual comments:

2010: He's adept at setting up hitters with a three-pitch arsenal consisting of a 90 mph fastball with good movement, a plus curve, and an average changeup, but he lacks a true out pitch.

2011: The most positive thing you can say about O'Sullivan is that he will be only 23 years old in 2011. The problem is that his youth doesn't mean much, since there isn't a lot of room for growth in this right-hander.

2012: How thin was the Royals starting rotation in 2011? Thin enough they gave O’Sullivan 10 starts. There’s no mystery here. A 0.73 SO/BB ratio to go along with 10 home runs in 58 innings.

That about sums it up.

(For those who enjoy satire, Will McDonald’s take on the O’Sullivan trade from the Royals’ perspective is worth your time.)

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Designated INF-R Edwin Maysonet and LHP Juan Perez for assignment. [6/22]
Signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a one-year deal. [6/22]

Hernandez is still searching for his first start this season, and all signs point to it coming in Milwaukee. The Brewers have three starters on the disabled list, including Shaun Marcum, and recently optioned Tyler Thornburg to the minors. Theoretically, the Brewers could recall another starter (like Wily Peralta), but if that were the plan then adding Hernandez seems unnecessary. A return to the rotation should be comforting for Hernandez, who increased his career relief innings from three to 34 this season. Hernandez’s best asset is his durability with his second-best asset being a shake of quality. Durability without quality is the flip side of the same coin as quality without durability—both will get you tossed into the ‘pen.

It’s hard to cavil with the Braves’ usage of Hernandez; however, asking him to assume a role where he averages fewer than two innings per appearance seems misguided. There are pitchers better equipped for that role than Hernandez. You don’t buy Hernandez with the intent for him to serve as a grill: quick and fast with flames. His style is more befitting of a crock-pot: long and slow with mild heat. The Brewers should get better results from Hernandez, assuming they read the label first.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

It was certainly the best offer on the table. I very much doubt the Red Sox, all things being equal or even marginally unequal, wanted to deal Youkilis to another AL team. But when that's all there is then that's all there is. Take it or don't. The Red Sox took it.

Jun 24, 2012 21:03 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Do we certainly know it was the best offer on the table? We're talking about the same front office that took Chris Carpenter as compensation for Theo Epstein only to watch his elbow go "sproing" within a month.

And, as an addendum, the Red Sox should be faulted for torpedoing Youkilis's value. Beyond the bad PR (which began in spring training), if they had given him more regular at bats, he might've restored more of his value.

If you're going to pay so much of his salary and get so little in return, why not just keep him? Perhaps he regains his value in the next month of part-time value before the trading deadline. Perhaps another team gets an injury and thus, brings another offer to the table.

I just can't believe this is the best the Red Sox could do.

Jun 24, 2012 23:01 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

We don't know it was the best offer on the table, we know the Red Sox thought it was the best offer on the table.

Jun 25, 2012 00:35 AM
 
Behemoth

He's an often-injured player who hasn't hit very well for a year and a half, with dodgy defence, and only under control to the end of the season. Couple that with the fact that everybody in the world knows you need to trade him, and you're never going to get much that matters for him.

Jun 25, 2012 06:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Youkilis has actually posted better fielding numbers in terms of fielding percentage and range factor than Middlebrooks based on 40 games of each player at third base.

Youkilis also had a .833 OPS last year, which is hardly shabby. Meanwhile, Middlebrooks's career minor league OPS is .787

Also, the Red Sox themselves were the ones who let everyone know they needed to trade him. They sabotaged his value, so I do fault them for not getting more than what the Sox gave. Besides, if they knew they weren't getting much, why not keep him around for another 2-3 weeks as a platoon/bench bat and see if he either increases his value or see if another team develops a need.

Now, I think Middlebrooks can be a decent player but any rookie can be hot for 40 games just as even Pujols can be cold for 40 games. Youkilis has had his injuries which works against him, but if I had to pick between Youkilis's production and defense and Middlebrooks, I think it's at worst a tie with a slight edge towards Youkilis.

Jun 25, 2012 08:42 AM
rating: 2
 
juiced

bobby V damaged his trade value with his public rant about Youk's work ethic. Whether true or false (I say false) it was an idiot move in that sense, plus it was just classless to go public with that kind of thing. Youk has won a lot of important games for the Sox.

Jun 24, 2012 23:32 PM
rating: 3
 
juiced

Because make no mistake about it, the Chisox won this trade. Stewart and Lillibridge is kind of a joke of a return.

Jun 24, 2012 23:32 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Not to mention the upside for the White Sox is high. Even if his bat is diminished, it should be better than Hudson and since he has experience at 3B, he should be a defensive upgrade too.

Jun 25, 2012 01:46 AM
rating: 1
 
gweedoh565

I agree- isn't "upside", by definition the BEST (or at least 90th percentile) outcome one could expect? In that case, who's to say Youkilis won't pull a Lance Berkman and suddenly rediscover is stroke/approach? If his upside is what he is capable of doing, that is HUGE.

Jun 25, 2012 06:26 AM
rating: 1
 
SGreenwell

Everyone in the world knew the Red Sox were over a barrel in terms of playing time unless one of the three (Youkilis, Gonzalez or Middlebrooks) got hurt. In similar situations, I don't think most teams have gotten good returns. I don't think either of the players the Red Sox got will help them, and the move is probably being done primarily to 1) minimize the chance things go nuclear in the Red Sox clubhouse with a complaining Youkilis and/or 2) to make sure there are no threats to Middlebrooks' confidence as "the guy" with a capable replacement just lurking there on the bench.

However, the trade doesn't give me a ton of confidence in the Red Sox front office going forward. They may have let Epstein go, but their moves since then suggest to me that he wasn't necessarily the one making panic free agent signings and rash personnel decisions in the first place. Their off-season moves (trading for Bailey and Melancon, signing Punto, moving Bard to the rotation) haven't been winners yet either.

Jun 25, 2012 03:35 AM
rating: 2
 
indianacardinal

Isn't what the Red Sox received the first reflection of what the new free agency compensation rules of the new collective bargaining agreement will do to player trade values in mid-season trades?

Assuming the White Sox won't exercise his $13 million option, he will be gone as a free agent with no draft choice compensation to the White Sox. Thus Lillibridge and Stewart are what Youkalis is worth for half a season.

The idea of getting good prospects for half season or less rentals is over.

Jun 26, 2012 13:29 PM
rating: 3
 
Richard Bergstrom

You bring up a good point and I think that's a fantastic observation about the compensation rules. I do not know if the extra wild card spot might mitigate some of that drop in value, but going forward, I'll be thinking about your comment as the trade deadline continues.

Thanks!

Jun 26, 2012 17:54 PM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

My sources indicate that Lilibridge makes a wonderful fried chicken from a recipe he picked up in Atlanta. Great clubhouse guy.

Jun 27, 2012 14:04 PM
rating: 0
 
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