Soon after Kevin Youkilis’ agent met with the Yankees eight days ago at the Winter Meetings, I spoke to one of the third baseman’s friends. The friend said Youkilis was very intrigued by the possibility of playing for the Yankees.
Youkilis relished being immersed in the baseball cauldron that is Boston, an intense atmosphere that also exists in New York. Now that he has agreed in principle to a one-year, $12 million contract with the Yankees, which is pending a physical, he will experience the other side of the most ferocious rivalry in baseball.
While cautioning that Youkilis’ deal won’t be official until the physical is complete, Joe Bick, the player’s agent, described him as being “some kind of fired up” about his new baseball home.
Before the news that Alex Rodriguez needed hip surgery became public, Youkilis wasn’t expecting the Yankees to pursue him. Now, for the first time in Youkilis’ career, he will actually hear something besides boos at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox player who Yankee fans always disliked more than the others is Rodriguez’s temporary replacement. Once Rodriguez is healthy enough to play, Youkilis will still get at-bats while shifting between third, first and designated hitter.
“There’s nothing he likes better than being in the middle of the chance to win a World Series,” said Bick about Youkilis. “He feels like that’s the case here.”
In a 2012 season that began with the Red Sox and ended with the White Sox, Youkilis hit .235 with a .336 on-base percentage, a .409 slugging percentage, 19 homers and 60 RBIs over 122 games. Other than homers, those statistics were Youkilis’ worst numbers since he became a full-time player in 2006.
But in Youkilis, the Yankees see a former Gold Glove third baseman who is a selective hitter and who still produces solid numbers against left-handed pitchers. Even in 2012, Youkilis, who was third in the Major Leagues while seeing 4.36 pitches per plate appearance, hit .275 with a .386 on base percentage and a .492 slugging percentage off lefties. The Yankees might rest Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, against some right-handers.
By getting Youkilis on a one-year deal, the Yankees continued their trend of signing free agents to one-year contracts this offseason. Pitchers Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte have all signed for one year and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is expected to agree to a one-year deal this week. The one-year approach means the Yankees aren’t adding salary for 2014, which is when they have stressed that their payroll will be under $189 million.
Because Youkilis was vilified by Yankee fans when he played for the Red Sox, there are some who have groused about his addition. I am amused by those complaints.
Once the Yankees didn’t make offers to Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger and both signed elsewhere, the Yankees needed to find a solid third baseman. Youkilis is that solid player, regardless of where he played before. What matters to the Yankees is where Youkilis is playing now: in the baseball cauldron that is New York.
“He likes being in the middle of the fight,” Bick said. “With this team and at this time, that will definitely be the case.”
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