The New York Yankees have now found their replacement for the injured Alex Rodriguez and it’s sure to make Boston Red Sox fans cringe. Kevin Youkilis has decided to accept the Yankees’ one-year, $12-million offer to head to the Bronx. New York issued him the contract last week, but Youkilis had been weighing other options, including a 2-year, $18-million deal from the Cleveland Indians. However, when the Indians signed Mark Reynolds on Sunday, it became clear the Yankees were Youk’s best fit.
Until June, Youkilis had spent his entire career in Boston, cheered loyally by the Fenway Faithful and booed mercilessly by the Bleacher Creatures. Those fans, though, will be changing their tunes next season. With Rodriguez undergoing hip surgery in January and missing a significant portion of the year, the Yankees needed someone who could take over the job until he returns. After missing out on Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez this offseason, Youkilis and Reynolds were the best available options and the Yankees made Youkilis the priority.
If he is to be worth the $12-million price tag, though, Youkilis is going to have to bounce back from the worst season of his career. In 438 at bats, he hit just .235 between his time with the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, his on base percentage was nearly 50 points lower than his .384 lifetime mark, and his 2.12 strike out to walk ratio was his highest ever. His 19 home runs did, however, tie his third-highest career total. More cause for concern, though, is that Youkilis has never fared well in the hitter’s haven that is Yankee Stadium. In 20 games there, he has hit just .233 with 4 home runs. Nevertheless, Youkilis is a three-time All-Star and has finished in the top 6 of MVP voting twice and he’s also too much of a competitor to accept that he is a low-to-mid-.200 hitter for the rest of his career, so the chance for a rebound season is not out of the question.
The biggest issue for the Yankees may be Youkilis’s injury problems. He’s averaged just 120 games over the last four seasons and, at age 34 when the new season begins, he’s entering the period of his career in which good health is far from a certainty. It is a risk on New York’s part also because of the fact the team needs him to stay healthy to fill in for Rodriguez. If Youkilis does end up on the disabled list again, that will be $40-million dollars committed to two banged up third-basemen. Even for the Yankees, that’s a lot of wasted money.
This contract, though, continues to fit in with the Yankees’ plans of getting their payroll down below the luxury tax threshold by 2014. Most of the contracts handed out by the team this offseason have been for one year, including Youkilis, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, and, quite possibly, Ichiro Suzuki. Factoring in the potential signing of Ichiro and the return of Rodriguez mid-season, the lineup (with Rodriguez or Youkilis as a DH) will have an average age of over 33 – an issue that will be able to best be addressed with financial flexibility and fewer contractual commitments. The Youkilis signing will give them the chance to add a productive bat, if he stays healthy and returns to his pre-2012 form, while allowing the Yankees that needed room to maneuver and get younger following the 2013 season.