Dodgers Interested in Kevin Youkilis, And Why Not?

November 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Posted in Kevin Youkilis | Leave a comment

As you might have seen earlier this evening, I’ve reported that the Dodgers won the rights to negotiate with Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu with a bid of $25.7m. It’s not been officially announced yet, but I trust my source. Anyway, we’ve talked a lot about him today already, so until we do hear more, let’s get to the other interesting news of the evening, courtesy of Ken Rosenthal:

The White Sox and Phillies are interested in Kevin Youkilis, according to major league sources. The Indians andCubs also are reported to be possibilities. But an official from one of those clubs expressed concern that the Dodgers might want Youk — and as it turns out, they are indeed considering signing him.

Youkilis, 33, would fit the Dodgers only under certain circumstances: If Hanley Ramirez ends up at shortstop and not third, if third baseman Luis Cruz becomes more of a super-utilityman, or if the Dodgers are resigned to sending Dee Gordon back to Triple A, perhaps for an entire season.

So… there’s that. And as you can imagine, the immediate response from the Twitterati hasn’t been positive, for pretty obvious reasons: Youkilis turns 34 in March, hit .235 between the Red Sox & White Sox last year, and gets hurt about every five seconds. Oh, and his presence would probably lock Hanley Ramirez into shortstop, which: gross.

That doesn’t exactly mean that there’s no scenario in which this makes sense, however. If you don’t trust Cruz to be an everyday player, as I’ve been pretty clear that I don’t, then you need another option at third base. (I’m assuming here that Juan Uribe will be sold for parts. Human parts. I’m trying to say he’ll be dismantled and his organs dispersed across the country.) Youkilis is clearly past his prime, but he’s also arguably the top third baseman available in a very weak market; there’s simply not anyone at the hot corner like there is Zack Greinke for pitchers.

Don’t forget, the Dodgers clearly also need someone else on the roster who can handle first base for a day or two if Adrian Gonzalez gets banged up or needs a breather, and there’s no one around who can currently do that. Youkilis would fill that role nicely, and even if his presence pushes Cruz to the bench, the frailty of Youkilis & Mark Ellis plus the need to replace Ramirez for defense would still guarantee last season’s hero a ton of playing time.

So it’s clear to me there’s a fit, though only on a one-year deal (perhaps with an option for a second). That being said, does Youkilis have anything left to offer after years of injuries? His overall .235/.336/.409 line in 2012 was by far the worst of his career, though he did do much better with Chicago (.339 wOBA, 15 HR in 339 PA) than with Boston (.307 wOBA, 4 HR in 165 PA). That overall wOBA of .328, while far off his 2008-10 peak, is still better than Cruz’ .326 mark in what was his breakout year.

Still, there’s no question that Youkilis is on the decline. But he doesn’t need to be the star he once was to be an asset. He just needs to not fall off any further, and last month, Michael Barr at FanGraphs put a positive spin on just that topic:

There is some evidence that he was the victim of some rotten luck. His BABIP in Boston was .288 and his expected BABIP was about .320, based largely on his odd 50% ground ball rate. His hit trajectory returned very much to Youkilis-normal in Chicago where he hit about 20% line drives, 40% ground balls, and 40% fly balls – but his BABIP in Chicago was just .257 while his expected BABIP predicted about .298.

His home run distance and speed off his bat hasn’t changed appreciably in six seasons and is actually higher in 2012 than it was in 2008 and 2009 when he was a bona fide home run hitter. Not only this, but there wasn’t a substantial change in his contact rates in 2012 versus his career:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% SwStr%
2012 20.60% 55.30% 37.40% 60.90% 89.80% 81.60% 48.30% 6.70%
Career 19.10% 57.30% 38.60% 61.80% 90.30% 83.40% 51.00% 6.20%

This isn’t suggesting that he’s necessarily going to snap back into high-20′s home run totals, but there’s no damning evidence on the hit trajectory, contact rates, or home run distance/speed off bat front to argue there’s a smoking gun that he’s totally washed up.

So I can easily see some utility to having Youkilis be a decent, hopefully league-average third baseman, adding a safety net at first base, while also helping to improve the bench by making Cruz a potentially very good super-sub. That’s a value which can’t be ignored, because the Dodger bench last year (and, really, every year) was atrocious. Remember the days of benches comprised of Elian Herrera, Scott Van Slyke, James Loney, & Tony Gwynn? Good times. Now, you could have Cruz & Jerry Hairston at the start of a much better bench, along with whatever outfield depth they end up adding.

Now, the obvious retort to what I said above about Youkilis outperforming Cruz on offense last year is “yeah, but Cruz is clearly the better defender.” That he is, with no argument from me. Unfortunately, the Dodgers have chosen to act as though Ramirez is the shortstop, which deprives Cruz of some of that defensive value. It’s not a position I agree with in any way, but it’s clearly what the team seems prepared to do. At least with Cruz on the bench, he’d be available to spot for Ramirez on defense if needed. And if that pushes Gordon to the minors and Nick Punto potentially off the roster? All the better.

I don’t love this idea so much that I’d be in any way disappointed if it doesn’t happen, and there’s part of me that still hopes it doesn’t. But if it does, on a short, reasonable deal, yeah, I can see the appeal.

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