Commentary

Edge to White Sox

Emotional Kevin Youkilis provides more than on-field upgrade at third

Updated: June 27, 2012, 1:33 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- It's perfectly conceivable Kevin Youkilis could be another Manny Ramirez, another Ken Griffey Jr., another Orlando Hudson -- lusted-after veterans Kenny Williams finally landed past their expiration date. Maybe he's a Nick Swisher, a vet who doesn't fit in and can't perform to his reputation.

I'm just being pessimistic, though.

Here's to optimism, because it's also valid to think Youkilis, even with his declining offensive numbers, is a home run move to shore up a sinkhole at third base for the Chicago White Sox. After Sunday's 1-0 win in extras, the Sox (38-34) are a half-game ahead of Cleveland for first in the AL Central. They are in the hunt for their first playoff appearance since sneaking in at the end of the 2008 season.

[+] EnlargeKevin Youkilis
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonKenny Williams likes the edge he heard in Kevin Youkilis after talking to the emotional veteran on the phone.

Youkilis still has a lot going for him. He is intense, beloved by his former teammates and Boston fans -- he was cheered wildly and took a curtain call in Sunday's game -- and he has been a productive, patient hitter over his career. He should fit in perfectly on a hungry, veteran team, and if he picks up his hitting, he'll be a fan favorite on the South Side. Kids from Merrillville to Bridgeport will be copying that swing.

"He pushes me every day, and I want to go out and play hard every day just like he does," his former teammate Dustin Pedroia told reporters.

There should be no debate this was the right move for Williams and the White Sox. I don't want to lionize the team's general manager here, because the deal was staring him in the face. He needed a third baseman. A third baseman was available.

But I do value Williams' abiding eagerness to compete for division titles, and you should too. He doesn't always make the right moves, but with Williams in charge, you know something will happen. I'll take action over inaction any day. The Sox need to make an extended summer run to draw fans, but it's also the honest thing to do.

And if you're playing to win, Youkilis is probably a good guy to have in your foxhole.

Just think, some people bought Williams' lines about not being able to afford additions thanks to sparse fan support. Boston is picking up the lion's share of Youkilis' contract and the club's option for a $1 million buyout in 2013. The White Sox will chip in about $2 million. That's some dynamic pricing.

"The deal made sense from a talent and financial standpoint for us," Williams said.

The players agreed. Nothing against Hudson, but even he knows he wasn't getting it done since coming to the Sox in late May.

"There is no way we are not a better team with Kevin Youkilis," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko told reporters Sunday. "He is just too good of a player and has been through all the wars and is still relatively a young guy. We just have to keep him on the field. If that is the case, it could be one of the bigger steals of the season."

You can bet the nine-year vet will entertain the masses, who value grindiness above all else, but it's no sure thing the 33-year-old will rediscover his hitting stroke. Or remain healthy. He has missed time this season with back trouble and missed 102 games in his previous two seasons.

Youkilis, who recently lost his job to hot prospect Will Middlebrooks, is hitting .233 this season with 4 home runs and 14 RBIs in 42 games. He's slugging .377 with a .692 OPS (on-base plus slugging), almost .200 below his career average. His .311 on-base percentage is well below his career average of .388. His OBP-friendly approach at the plate was indicative of Boston's successful approach and earned him the nickname the "Greek God of Walks" in the minors, made famous by the book, "Moneyball."

Going into Sunday's game, the White Sox's third basemen have combined for an OPS under .500, so manager Robin Ventura, playing on a cadaver's ankle, probably would've been an upgrade.

Speaking of cadavers, the Sox did their due diligence on Youkilis' health. Well, according to them, anyway.

"We were given a good bill of health on him," Williams said. "He said he hasn't felt this good physically for a long time. He said he is very excited to join our club and he has a little bit of edge to him, which I like. I can't tell you exactly what he said, but he wants to come in and prove some people wrong."

The last time Chicago baseball fans heard about a player with an edge itching to prove people wrong, we were welcoming Milton Bradley to town.

OK, that's a joke, put down your pitchforks.

With Brent Morel injured and previously ineffective and free-agent pickup Hudson, a natural second baseman having a rough go playing third, there was little chance the Sox could make do with no-offense, no-defense at third. "O-Dog" could be a nice backup option with Brent Lillibridge going to Boston in the deal.

While Youkilis wasn't happy toward the end in Boston and didn't get along with manager Bobby Valentine -- I know, it's crazy -- he'll find a kindred spirit in Ventura, not to mention a pretty likable clubhouse. Maybe Youkilis will find a new home here too. After the trade, his older brother Scott, an Indiana University grad and San Francisco-based chef, started tweeting about why Chicago is better than Boston.

The Youkilis brothers, who hail from Cincinnati, even have a product that fans might be interested in: Youk's Hot Sauce.

Let's hope the younger one brings some to Chicago.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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