Monday, June 25, 2012

Good luck, Youk

So, I arrived home last night from an amazing two-week honeymoon to Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia to find that Kevin Youklis was traded to the Chicago White Sox yesterday in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zach Stewart and utility infielder Brent Lillibridge. The trade analysis is almost painfully simple. The Red Sox have had a better designated hitter and a better first baseman for a couple years now, and with the emergence of Will Middlebrooks, have a better third baseman. Youkilis - one of the best hitters alive from 2008-2010, with a .308/.404/.560 line - no longer had a place in the Red Sox lineup.

It's been a bit of a crazy few months for us Red Sox fans. First, Tim Wakefield officially retired. Then, a few days later, Jason Varitek followed suit. Now Youkilis has been traded, leaving David Ortiz as the only player with a 2004 World Series ring left with the team.

Red Sox fans have been following Youkilis since even before his famous inclusion in Moneyball. The 2001 tenth rounder out of the University of Cincinnati had been tearing up the minor leagues, rising fairly quickly through the Red Sox system until he reached Pawtucket, where he continued to mash but waiting a long time for his chance. Injuries got him some playing time in 2004, and the poor play of Kevin Millar led to calls from several circles to give him playing time the following year. Finally, in 2006 he beat out J.T. Snow for the starting first baseman job. (Admit it. You forgot J.T. Snow was on the Red Sox).

He played fairly well that year, came into his own in '07, and turned into a star in '08. In all, he spent six excellent years as a starter, working deep counts and ripping doubles inside the left field foul line. His grimacing (I believe it was Joe Magrane who said the look he makes after a called strike resembled a "bitter beer face") and bat throwing and shouting made him into something of a lightning rod, being a player that people either loved or loathed, but even his detractors appreciated his production.

Losing his job to Will Middlebrooks this year seemed almost poetic, as this season has marked something of a generational shift in the Red Sox. Varitek, Wakefield, Youkilis, Papelbon, Drew, Epstein and Francona are now all gone. A year ago, the departure of any one of them wouldn't have been surprising, but the loss of all of them in such a short time seems almost seismic. The current Red Sox would be unrecognizable to someone who saw them only one year ago. I can visualize my mother, listning to the game on the radio and asking me "who are these guys?"

Even though the move is sensible, it's impossible not to be sentimental. Youkilis was immediately recognizable, fiery, and really, really good. I miss that bitter beer face already.

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