Props are in order for Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, who apparently has taken it upon himself to be the torch-bearer for Kangol hats, barely seen since former WWF (I refuse to call it WWE) manager Slick. Something about that clip makes me want to listen to the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”
But, I digress. The story here is that the Red Sox have re-signed first baseman Kevin Youkilis to a four-year, $41.25 million contract with a club option for a fifth year, voiding his arbitration eligibility.
The common opinion thus far has been that the Red Sox have a steal here, but Youkilis is already 29 (he’ll be 30 in March), has battled nagging injuries for a few years, and wasn’t slated to become a free agent until after the 2010 season, putting him on the market for his age 32 season and beyond.
The practice of giving players extensions to void out their arbitration years is becoming increasingly common, and it’s generally viewed as a “win” for the team. In recent seasons, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria and Dustin Pedroia (I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now) have inked long-term extensions.
Though I agree it is generally advantageous for the team to make the investment, it can sometimes backfire, as it did in 2008 with Tulowitzki, who was injured and regressed. Instead of making a few hundred thousand for a couple seasons with a shot at arbitration (I believe after ’09), Tulowitzki is owed millions. And though his rebound is likely, there’s no guarantee.
Even still, Youkilis’ deal has to be viewed as a relative bargain in light of Mark Teixeira’s monster deal with the Yankees. Like Teixeira, Youkilis is an excellent defensive player, and can actually play both third and first base. I wouldn’t go so far as to project Youkilis’ monster offensive production in ’08 as his average for the duration of the four-year deal (in fact, it was likely his peak), but he did have higher on-base and slugging percentages than his Yankees counterpart.
After losing out on the big-fish free agents (most notably Mark Teixeira) and falling short in a harried effort to regain Hanley Ramirez’s services, the Red Sox now have signed a string of low-risk, high-reward free agents.
Today they signed Takashi Saito, former closer of the Dodgers, who, like fellow offseason Red Sox signees Rocco Baldelli, Brad Penny and John Smoltz, is coming off an injury. As a quick aside, I was holding out hope the Mets might take such a flier on Saito, which would not have been unreasonable by any means. I knew my Fuentes-Putz-K-Rod modern day Nasty Boys fantasy was just that, but Saito would have fit well on any team willing to risk the dollars.
Saito was a fine closer for a several years with the Dodgers, and despite his age and recent injury history, could be a shrewd add if he performs well since he’ll only be used in the seventh and eighth innings. They now have Saito, Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon in the back of their bullpen, with Justin Masterson’s role still undefined as a potential long man or right-handed specialist (his lefty-righty splits are pretty stark) — not a bad mix, by any means.
Of the four Red Sox signings, I’d give Penny the best shot at rebounding because of his age and relative severity of his injury, followed by Saito, then Baldelli (who’s perpetually injured/ill) and finally Smoltz.
Of the remaining big-name free agents, only a starter like Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez or perhaps even Ben Sheets seems to make much sense right now as a possible candidate for the Red Sox. As we know, they’ve been there, done that with Manny Ramirez, and they don’t have a need for a corner outfielder/DH, anyway, which means they’re unlikely to pursue Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu.
As the roster currently stands, their rotation looks like this for ’09:
I’d imagine if Theo had his druthers, he’d like to add another solid starter like Lowe and allow Buchholz and Wakefield to duke it out for the fifth spot in the rotation. Time will tell, and we know Boston has deep pockets, but it hasn’t seemed willing to reset the market for Lowe just yet, which makes it seem increasingly unlikely any team will go to four years for his services.
I have to admit, I thought the timing of Rocco Baldelli’s “misdiagnosis” a few weeks backs was rather convenient, considering he was a free-agent outfielder and all.
Lo and behold, the oft-injured, long-overhyped, former first-round draft pick is reportedly close to a deal to return to his home-region Red Sox (Baldelli is a Rhode Island native).
What was once a jammed outfield suddenly became thin with the departure of Coco Crisp in a curious trade with the Royals and the unexpected underperformance of Jacoby Ellsbury in 2008.
Whether Baldelli can shoehorn his way into more than the occassional at-bat in the Red Sox’s lineup remains to be seen. J.D. Drew is prone to injury, and despite better splits vs. lefties than righties, the left-handed-hitting Ellsbury still has to be considered a potential platoon candidate after an uneven ’08 campaign if he struggles for long stretches again.
Details of terms still pending, this looks to be a decent signing of a player, who, if healthy, still projects a fair measure of upside for his age 27 season. With only two full seaons under his belt (and even those are a ways in the rearview, in ’03 and ’04), he still has some learning to do, if possible; a career OBP of .325 is pretty underwhelming.
But hey, at least he’s in the Rhode Island Italian-American Hall of Fame for his exploits as a high schooler.