The Yankees announced on Dec. 3 that Alex Rodriguez would need hip surgery that would sideline him for up to six months. That made finding a capable third baseman a top priority.
On Friday, that goal was met as the Yankees put their rivalry with the Red Sox aside by officially signing former Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract. Youkilis will receive $12 million and be the team’s Opening Day third baseman. He will likely split time at the corner positions when Rodriguez returns.
“They just told me that I’m going to play third base,” Youkilis said on a conference call Friday. “With Alex, when he comes back, he’ll probably DH a little bit, play a little third. There’s no telling. We hope that he recovers as soon as possible.”
“He will be penciled in as our everyday third baseman until Alex comes back,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He certainly cushions the blow of losing Alex. That’s a difficult loss. When you have a healthy Alex Rodriguez you have a really, one of the more productive players, but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t think of anyone better to replace him in the short-term than Kevin Youkilis. He’s a gamer and competitor that gives you a chance to win and is hungry and has a desire to win.”
Youkilis’s signing comes after he was possibly considering reuniting with former Boston manager Terry Francona in Cleveland. Reports indicated the Indians had offered a two-year, $18 million deal to play first base but when Mark Reynolds signed for one year, Youkilis seemed more likely to join the Yankees. He conceded the move was a surprise, but also one he couldn’t pass up.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Youkilis said. “It was one of those things where we had to go over the options, but I was very humbled and amazed that the Yankees jumped into the picture. I never thought I’d be on the other side of the rivalry.
“The first thing was family. I really wanted to make sure, with all these options, what’s best for the family.”
Joining the Yankees concludes a whirlwind 2012 for the man nicknamed “The Greek God of Walks” in the book “Moneyball.”
Youkilis began 2012 as the third baseman for the Red Sox, who were coming off one of the greatest collapses in baseball history. After losing 20 of 27 games in September, the Red Sox became the first team to blow a nine-game lead and miss the playoffs.
That led to the end of Francona’s successful tenure and ultimately ushered in the controversial and disastrous Bobby Valentine tenure. Valentine tweaked Youkilis early by going on a Boston television show and saying Youkilis was not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past.”
Two months later, with his job lost to rookie Will Middlebrooks, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox. One of his first appearances for his new team was a late-June series at Yankee Stadium and Youkilis said at the time, he was in a better place mentally after the chaotic final months in Boston.
Youkilis has a .283 career batting average but joins the Yankees coming off his two worst seasons. He batted just .214 after the All-Star break in 2012. He hit over .300 from 2008 to 2010 but his average has dipped to .258 and .235 the next two seasons.
Despite the dip in average, Youkilis’s on-base percentage and walk percentage remained decent. Youkilis finished with a .336 on-base percentage (.346 with the White Sox) and also was one of 43 players with enough plate appearances to walk at least 10 percent of the time.
His best numbers from last year were against left-handed pitching. Youkilis batted .275 off southpaws in 120 at-bats and he has a career .298 batting average against lefties
The slight decline in those numbers and slight increase in strikeouts may be attributed to injuries. In recent years, the 33-year-old Youkilis has missed time with a torn right thumb and stiff back, but he said he feels fine.
“I passed my physical, which is good,” Youkilis said. “No, I feel good. I feel good physically and I feel good mentally. Last year was a difficult year and a learning experience.”
Youkilis’s signing comes after the Yankees were spurned by others. Eric Chavez decided to continue his career with Arizona, Jeff Keppinger elected to join the White Sox and Reynolds joined the Indians. He also becomes the latest player to go from Boston to New York, though he had a three-month stop in Chicago.
That list includes Babe Ruth, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs. In recent years that club also included Johnny Damon and now it includes Youkilis, one of eight members of the 2004 Red Sox that played for the Yankees afterward.
Some Yankee fans are not thrilled with the move and may boo him, though Youkilis noted that booing sounds similar to “Youk.”
No ill-will for Chamberlain
Joba Chamberlain was less than a month into his major league career when he was suspended for throwing consecutive 98 mph and 99 mph pitches at Youkilis on Aug. 30, 2007.
“I didn’t see any other pitches going that far out of the strike zone,” Youkilis said after the incident. “Who knows what it really meant?”
Five years later, there is no ill will between the new teammates. Youkilis said he received a voicemail from Chamberlain and that the incident is no longer an issue.
“It is not a big deal to me,” Youkilis said. “If it was that big a deal, I wouldn’t have been signing with the Yankees. But I don’t think it is that big of a deal. A lot of it is made out within the media and the fans.”
“I definitely don’t believe there is an issue with him coming to New York,” Cashman said. “I think it’s an easier transition for someone like that after he’s been traded. He’s not going from Boston to New York. He’s basically going from Boston to Chicago to New York. I think in the end he chose us for a reason, because it was the best opportunity for him to play and compete.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for all your offseason news.