Dodgers Interested in Kevin Youkilis, And Why Not?

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.

Trading Season is Coming Fast

A few notes on the upcoming hilarity which will be trade season as we wait for Aaron Harang and the Dodgers to take on Brandon McCarthy (potentially my favorite non-Dodger pitcher) and the Athletics tonight…

* We can slow down on those Ryan Dempster rumors for now. Dempster was placed on the disabled list with a sore right lat. It’s not expected to be serious, and it won’t take him off the market entirely, since the trade deadline isn’t for another six weeks. He was expected to be a fast mover in the market, however, and now any interested buyers will not only have to factor in his health, they’ll have to note that they could be receiving 4-5 fewer of his starts than they might have otherwise. In some way, this is a good thing, because it hopefully lowers his value.

* The Red Sox are apparently very motivated to move Kevin Youkilis. Or at least, that’s what Ken Rosenthal & Jon Paul Morosi claim…

The last days of Kevin Youkilis in a Boston Red Sox uniform may be approaching.

Trade dialogue surrounding the beleaguered Boston third baseman has intensified in the last 24 to 48 hours, major-league sources told The Red Sox have made clear that (a) Youkilis is available and (b) they are willing to include cash to facilitate a better player return. In response, a number of clubs have indicated that they have interest in acquiring the three-time All-Star.

“He’s being shopped everywhere,” said one high-ranking official with a National League club.

Youkilis has struggled, with his single last night being his first in more than a week. Obviously, if he doesn’t start producing, it’s pointless for any team to want him; on the other hand, I’m still having a hard time believing that a guy with a .373 OBP last year is just done, and as we’ve been over, the 1B/3B bar in Los Angeles is so, so low right now. As with Dempster, the silver lining here may be that his trade value has plummeted; Chris Cwik at FanGraphs investigates just how much:

Even if those teams are desperate for help at their corner infield slots, they shouldn’t have to give up any significant prospects for Youkilis. Middlebrooks’ play has made Youkilis redundant. If the Red Sox continue to play Youkilis at third, they’ll do so at the expense of Middlebrooks. And since the Red Sox already have better players at first and DH, the Red Sox don’t have a lot of leverage. If the Red Sox were to cover most — or all — of Youkilis’ remaining salary, it’s possible they could receive a low-level impact player. Maybe a reliever or a good bat off the bench. But right now, there’s no reason for a team to break the bank on Youkilis.

Even with his struggles, there is going to be a market for Kevin Youkilis. And while he would represent upgrades at third for some contending teams, he would be even more valuable moving back to first base. That makes the Dodgers and the Indians two of the teams that should be inquiring about Youkilis. And considering Kenny Williams is no stranger to taking risks, the White Sox will likely be involved as well. He’s had a history of success, and there will probably be a team willing to take a risk on him turning things around. But unless he starts producing soon, the Red Sox are going to receive pennies on the dollar for him.

* How worried should we be about Ned Colletti being the man in control this July? We’ve long since come to terms with the fact that few of us are big Colletti fans, particularly when it comes to big-ticket free agents or high-profile trades. (He’s much better on the smaller stuff.) Over at Baseball Prospectus, R.J. Anderson breaks down Colletti’s reputation as a GM who loves to trade prospects, noting that of the 36 “young” players Colletti has traded, 17 never appeared in the bigs (so far, at least) and 14 more contributed almost no value. Of the remaining five – Edwin Jackson, Dioner Navarro, Cody Ross, Carlos Santana, & James McDonald – Anderson grades three deals as “fail” and two as “pass”.

Colletti’s evaluation mistakes cost the Dodgers two middle-of-the-rotation starters, an All-Star catcher, and a good fourth outfielder at most. But what about the flip side? What about when Colletti correctly evaluated his own prospects? Silver wrote, “One of [Colletti's] strengths seems to be knowing when to bail on his own players.” In the time since, Colletti has reaffirmed that notion. Some of Colletti’s better trades have come when correctly identifying the lemons in his own bunch. He traded Bryan Morris and LaRoche to acquire Manny Ramirez (easily the best deal of his career), used the intrigue of Joel Guzman to land Julio Lugo (whom, for whatever reason, fell to pieces, mitigating an otherwise clever deal), grabbed Jon Garland for Tony Abreu, got Jim Thome for nothing, and added Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot for Blake DeWitt and two prospects who were unable to make the Cubs’ top-20 list this preseason.

Tagging Colletti as a good or bad general manager adds no value. What can add value is breaking general managers down to tools and skills. Colletti seems to understand that future value is worth less than present value, particularly when his team has the ability to compete now and the resources to compete later. Proper evaluation is the engine in Colletti’s machine. That means the Dodgers have to continue to land potentially useful players and continue to evaluate and harvest the potentially overvalued prospects. Every once and a while, Colletti is going to miss on a player. It happens; even John Schuerholz, the master of farm system self-evaluation, lost a few times.

This isn’t to say that Dodgers fans should have blind faith in Colletti, just that cowering in fear seems to be equally as unreasonable.

I’d say that’s fair, and it’s amazing how much less negativity there is about Colletti when you look at trades only and forget the hundreds of millions wasted on Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Juan Uribe, and others. Still, I can’t say I have a ton of faith in him trying to out-negotiate Theo Epstein and many of the other GMs.

* Finally, please send your best wishes… to Roberto Baly of Vin Scully is My Homeboy, who is dealing with some health concerns. Roberto runs a great blog and is by all indications an even better person, and we all wish him the best.

In Which We’re Obligated to Discuss Kevin Youkilis

I wasn’t really planning on looking into trade possibilities so early – major in-season trades rarely happen before July 1 – but the events of the last few days have conspired in such a way that it’s all but unavoidable. The Dodgers have lost Matt Kemp until July, they’re coming off their first four-game sweep at home since 1993, and the offense is sputtering as the good feelings of looking towards Kemp’s return have quickly evaporated. Not only that, we’re hearing that they’ve been looking into a variety of position players, and now we’ve got Danny Knobler of CBS Sports saying “Red Sox are telling teams they definitely intend to trade Kevin Youkilis.”

Knobler expands on the Dodgers here:

The financial power of the Dodgers’ new ownership group could really be seen on next winter’s free-agent market, where the team is expected to go all-out in an effort to sign Cole Hamels.

“They love him, and they’re saying they’ll do whatever it takes to get him,” said one rival club official, who speaks regularly to Dodgers people. But the Dodgers will likely try to flex their financial muscle on the July trade market, too.

With their team sitting in first place in the National League West, Dodgers officials have sent out word that they will try hard to acquire both a starting pitcher and a hitter before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

“The one thing that won’t be an obstacle for them is money,” the rival official said.

The Dodger farm system hasn’t had nearly as good a start as the parent club, so the team is limited in terms of prospects who would be coveted trade chips. The solution for the Dodgers could be to go after players with bigger contracts, and offer to take on more of the money.

Let’s keep in mind that there’s probably an 80% chance that Knobler is being fed misleading information regarding Youkilis, because what team would ever devalue their player by saying they’re definitely going to trade him? Still, it’s fun to speculate, and while there’s plenty of other trade options out there that we’ll discuss in the coming weeks, Youkilis is most intriguing because he can play first base or third, which just so happen to be the two of the biggest Dodger problem spots along with shortstop. (I’m assuming that Kemp comes back healthy and that between Tony Gwynn, Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, and Alex Castellanos you can patch together a decent left field crew.)

Youkilis has been a main part of this recent Red Sox dynasty for nearly a decade now, remaining productive despite a litany of injury concerns. (In the last few years, he missed the final two months of 2010 due to thumb surgery, two stints on the DL last year due to back pain and later a sports hernia, and then 22 games earlier this year with more back woes.) Though he came up as a third baseman, he shifted to first for several years and then returned to third last year as Adrian Beltre departed and Adrian Gonzalez arrived; this year, he’s part of a logjam caused by the emergence of third base prospect Will Middlebrooks, a situation which has seen Gonzalez playing right field on a semi-regular basis.

Still, despite the injuries, Youkilis has remained productive. Last year, he hit .258/.373/.459, good for a .366 wOBA which would have topped every Dodger other than Kemp. This year, he got off to a slow start as he tried to play through the back pain, but he’s been on base 13 times (including two homers) in the nine games since he returned. Contract-wise, he’s owed the remaining portion of $12m this year (assuming a regular payment schedule, that’s ~$8m or so remaining) and has a $1m buyout of a $13m team option for 2012. He does not, so far as I know, have a no-trade clause. Defensively, he’s regarded as slightly above-average at first and at least average at third.

While there are obvious concerns about his injury history, there seems to be little question that he would be a sizable upgrade over either Juan Uribe or James Loney, in addition to bringing the flexibility to replace either one as events warrant. The question, of course, is what would the cost be? The Red Sox are only three games out of first (though oddly, still in last place in the ultra-competitive AL East) and rarely sell or look for salary relief, though with plenty of injured outfielders on their way back they can’t continue to stick Gonzalez in right field.

Writing at Over the Monster, pal Marc Normandin suggests that since “Boston’s 40-man is going to be super crowded, I assume (and could totally be off-base) but the return would involve low-level prospects who don’t require a 40-man spot yet.” Which is fine, since the Dodgers are basically using their entire 40-man roster in the bigs right now, and I assume that the Sox aren’t dying to get Tim Federowicz back.

A few weeks ago, I noted that the Dodgers had so many intriguing mid-level starting pitchers in the system that it would make sense as a starting point for a trade. Other than Chris Withrow, who is on the 40-man, none of them require a 40-man spot. (Again, that’s just Normandin speculating, anyway.) While I know we all love all of those guys and that for some, the idea of trading for yet another older Boston infielder isn’t appealing, we have to know that there’s zero chance that we’re going to see every last one of those guys be a successful Dodger. In some cases, extracting value via trade is payoff enough, and if the Dodgers expect to be in the hunt this year – which it’s clear they do – trades are going to need to be made, and prices will be high.

I wouldn’t want to trade Zach Lee, but if the package required including an Ethan Martin? An Aaron Miller? A Matt Magill? An Allen Webster? The 3-4 other guys who are just like them? Any bullpen arm, majors included, that wasn’t Kenley Jansen? Maybe they want depth to replace Youkilis and might like Scott Van Slyke? It wouldn’t be only one of those guys, of course, because the Red Sox are going to require real actual talent to give up Youkilis, but sure, I could definitely live with that; Youkilis’ back woes and salary mean that I don’t expect this to be a “Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler” situation from last year, not that the Dodgers have a Wheeler to give away anyway.

You could argue, and I might just do so later this month, that Paul Konerko is a better choice, since he’s a bigger bat having a better season. He’s also older, can’t play third base, and on a team which may be less inclined to move him. Either way, I think we can all expect that the Dodgers are going to do something over the next two months. If the price is right, Youkilis could be a great fit for a team that’s badly in need of help at the infield corners. Besides, his OBP next to A.J. Ellis? Delicious.