When Kevin Youkilis hit an RBI triple in the bottom of the 7th inning in a 9-4 Boston Red Sox win over the Atlanta Braves, he was replaced for pinch-runner Nick Punto by manager Bobby Valentine. Coming off the field, "Youk" tipped his cap to the Boston fans, and seconds later came out of the dugout for a curtain call. There was no trade announcement, but considering the trade rumors swirling around Youkilis, it was clear the Red Sox and Youkilis knew something we didn't.
It didn't take long after the game for the trade to be announced. Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox on June 24 for infielder Brent Lillibridge and reliever Zach Stewart. The Red Sox will pay $5.5 million of the remaining $7 million owed to Youkilis this season.
Youkilis played 8 1/2 years with the Sox, winning two World Series with the team. His intense, aggressive style of play earned the admiration of respect of Boston fans, and the chant of "Youuuuuk" became a staple at Fenway. He was an All-Star three times, and won a Gold Glove at first base. In his time in Boston, Youkilis played first base, third base, and played 18 memorable, errorless games in left field in 2006. He was a "dirt dog."
But Youkilis battled injuries for the past few seasons, possibly due to his intense style of play. He constantly was at the top of the league in getting hit by pitches, for example. This season, he went on the DL with back stiffness in late April, and rookie Will Middlebrooks immediately started to make his case for the spot. Youkilis returned almost a month later, but with a .233 average on the season and four home runs was clearly not performing well enough to take his spot back from Middlebrooks, who is hitting .326 with nine homers.
A lot has been made of the state of the Sox clubhouse, ever since last season's collapse and now ESPN's Buster Olney's recent description of the clubhouse as "toxic." Youkilis was not happy about his reduced playing time, and seemed to have issues with Valentine, who called him out earlier this season for not being as dedicated as he had been. But this was a trade made to give an emerging rookie the at-bats he deserves, not to change the clubhouse culture. I sincerely hope that there is no "smear campaign" this time. Time will tell. Youkilis was the next-to-last member of the 2004 Curse-breaking team left, and history has shown that Boston fans have been fiercely loyal to members of that team, and it's deserved. David Ortiz is now the lone remaining player for that team still with the Sox.
As far as the return the Sox received, it shows how low Youk was valued by other teams. Lillibridge is a utility infielder hitting a dismal .175 this season, not even close to the Mendoza Line, and Stewart was sent down to Triple-A Charlotte on June 19 with a 6.00 ERA on the season. Boston plans to turn Stewart into a starter, and Lillibridge could be used as a backup to Middlebrooks.
Youkilis' intensity and passion was a joy to watch for the past 8 1/2 seasons. I, and surely all Sox fans, wish him the best of luck in Chicago.
Scott Frano is a Boston native and longtime Red Sox fan.
Tim Brown, "Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis to White Sox," Yahoo! Sports