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Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Youkilis' value with Yankees hazy

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

By agreeing to a reported one-year, $12 million contract with the New York Yankees, Kevin Youkilis has opened himself up to a wide range of potential 2013 outcomes.

Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis hit .236 with 15 homers with the White Sox after a trade from the Red Sox in midseason.

That's not meant in reference to how Yankees fans feel about one of their former rivals donning the pinstripes, or conversely how Boston Red Sox fans feel about it. Though those outcomes could range anywhere from Yankees fans embracing Youkilis, a la Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens before him, to a lot of Youkilis jersey burning … on either side.

No, Youkilis' wide array of outcomes is in regard to his statistics, and with them, his fantasy value. He's an appropriate fit for the Yankees, one with a chance at restoring the kind of value that placed him 57th overall in 2009 and 120th in 2010 on our Player Rater, but also one who, if used incorrectly, might be the kind of awkward fit destined to rank closer to the 192th overall on our 2011 Player Rater or 301st in 2012. In other words, he's a spring "homework" player, one whose specific role laid out by the team between now and Opening Day bears watching.

To explain, Youkilis' value is rooted in his selectivity at the plate, as of the 230 hitters with 1,000 or more plate appearances the past three seasons combined, his 12.1 percent walk rate ranked 21st, his .372 on-base percentage 19th. He is the kind of player who makes a wise top-third-of-the-order hitter, just as he was used by the Chicago White Sox, who batted him second in 75 of his 80 games for the team following his trade there last June.

The problem is that the Yankees are no lock to use Youkilis as a No. 2 hitter, being that they'll likely -- depending upon a Curtis Granderson trade and the finalization of an Ichiro Suzuki contract -- have back Granderson, Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner and Ichiro who, between them, accounted for 575 of the 648 combined Nos. 1 and 2 lineup assignments for the team the past two years. The smart move for the Yankees would be to utilize Jeter and Youkilis at one and two against all left-handed starters, and Gardner plus some combination of Youkilis, Granderson and Jeter at one and two against all right-handed starters. Be aware, however, that Joe Girardi tends to prefer alternating right- and left-handed hitters atop the lineup … and he might consider it blasphemy to ever bat Jeter lower than third.

If Youkilis bats more regularly in a lineup-producing spot, say, fifth or sixth, his fantasy value would be tied more to his offense, which has declined in recent years. Perhaps a product of hip, back and knee problems, Youkilis' slugging percentage, isolated power, well-hit average (percentage of at-bats that resulted in hard contact) and strikeout rate are all in a three-year pattern of decline, and we can't assume Yankee Stadium will reverse that. He did, after all, just finish out his 2012 calling homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field his home, turning in .323/.445/.617 offensive rates in 39 games there but only .236/.346/.425 for the White Sox overall.

Another concern on the worst-case scenario side is that Youkilis was presumably signed to man third base regularly until Alex Rodriguez is ready to return from hip surgery. The problem with that, however, is that Youkilis' health history isn't noticeably better than A-Rod's, and the wiser arrangement would be one that had either player serving as designated hitter two or three times a week to ease the physical burden. The Yankees project to have four regulars -- Youkilis, Jeter, A-Rod and Ichiro -- past their 34th birthdays come Opening Day and, come season's end, all seven defensive starters except for their catcher will be at least 30 years old. A rotating-DH arrangement means Youkilis will get the bulk of his at-bats at third base, increasing his chances he'll miss time.

So, to summarize, this is the best-case scenario for Youkilis, if our spring homework shows he's being properly used: He rebounds to .270/.380/.475-caliber production, is carefully maintained enough to play 135-140 games and gets a good 100 of those as a No. 2 hitter, meaning an excellent chance at 90-plus runs scored.

That'd be the kind of player who might, with some good fortune, make a run at top-100 overall status.

This, however, is a reasonable, lower-end scenario: The Yankees lock Youkilis in as a No. 6-7 hitter, overburden him at the hot corner in April and May, cost him a minimum month's stay on the disabled list and fail to exploit a possible runs/RBIs advantage for the team. Maybe he bats .240/.350/.425, drives in 75 runs in 100 games, starts hot and is one of the best May sell-high candidates in fantasy.

That'd be the kind of player who fails to even meet the No. 236 ranking I had for him at the onset of the offseason.

For now, let's split the difference, assume Youkilis' prospects increase, and keep a careful watch on his March. He improves 19 spots accordingly, making him my No. 217 overall player, No. 19 third baseman and No. 27 first baseman.

Just make sure that if you pick him as that, to formulate a contingency plan.