Though it’s seemed like yeoman’s work at times, the Yankees have spent the offseason methodically checking off nearly all of the names on their Hot Stove wish list. With the notable exception of Russell Martin, the Yankees have landed nearly all of their principal targets, from Hiroki Kuroda through, reportedly, Ichiro Suzuki. By agreeing to terms with Kevin Youkilis yesterday, the Yankees even landed their first choice for an unexpected opening filling in for Alex Rodriguez while he recovers from hip surgery. The move may also prove to be just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees’ offense.
Yes, yes, I know that not everyone is fond of the move, and many of the complaints are fair. Youkilis isn’t actually that old at just 33 years old, but he’s fairly injury prone at this point in his career, and he had a down year in 2012 with some fairly nasty splits. That said, it’s important to remember that the Yankees didn’t enter the offseason anticipating a need for a third baseman, and that they weren’t necessarily looking for any more than an interim starter to keep the seat warm for A-Rod. Given the circumstances, it’s hard to argue that there were any clearly better alternatives on the market. Perhaps a platoon of Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez would have been better (and cheaper) in the best case scenario, but on the other hand using two players to fill a temporary hole could quickly lead to a roster crunch, especially when Alex returns. With Youkilis, the Yankees have someone who can handle the position every day, and could even remain in the A-lineup if and when A-Rod returns, with one o the other handling the DH duties.
Of course, the wild card here is Youkilis’ health and performance. On the former, I don’t know how optimistic you can really be. Youkilis has never played more than 147 games in his career, hasn’t played in 136 games since 2009, and played in 120 and 122 games in the past two years, respectively. Keeping him on the field will be a big challenge for the Yankees, but then that would have true of a player like Chavez too. On the production front, I’m somewhat more optimistic, if only because there is reason to think Youkilis is still better than his 2012 numbers. For one thing, he still mashed lefties and kept his peripherals pretty close to his career norm. For another, he’s only a year removed from an eminently respectable campaign in 2011 in which his hit .258/.373/.459, for a wRC+ 0f 126. If he gets close to that as an interim third baseman/designated hitter the Yankees will make out pretty well on this contract. Even in the worst case scenario, though, his 102 wRC+ from last year would hardly be a disaster from a replacement starter.
(And yes, that’s a picture of Youkilis crying to the umps after he was called out for interference after sliding a few feet out of the baseline to take out Derek Jeter on a double play, which is probably my favorite Youk-moment of all time. What, you thought I was going to stop hating the guy that easily?)