In at least one way, Kevin Youkilis is a perfect fit for the Yankees. They’re trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2014 in order to reset their tax rate and there aren’t many other third basemen willing to take one-year deals on the market. Beats trying to coax Chipper Jones out of retirement, probably, and Youkilis has retained enough of his skill to be an asset, even coming off his worst year.
In at least one other way, Youkilis is less than an ideal fit.
The good news first. Though Youkilis is coming off his career-worst season, not all of his peripherals tell the same story. His power has been in decline for two straight years by isolated power and that can happen to older hitters. His home run per fly ball rate has held steady, but he’s hitting more ground balls recently and that has led to fewer home runs. He’s definitively past his power peak. Hold on, the good news is still coming.
The thirty-three year old also just showed the second-worst strikeout rate of his career, which jives with aging curves as well. On the other hand, he’s not showing any more swinging strikes than he used to, and he hasn’t run into the extra swings — outside and inside the zone — that start appearing around his age. Given the fact that he just put up the best reach rate of his career, and the fact that his walk rate has stayed in the double-digits his whole career, it’s likely that Youkilis still has that skill that gave him the Grecian divinity moniker.
This might all sound like luke-warm praise, but it’s hard to find a guy with patience, better than league-average power, and a league-average strikeout rate that will play third base, let alone one that will do so on a one-year contract. Only six third baseman managed the feat last season, and none of them were even free agents.
One of the six was Alex Rodriguez, and his second hip surgery created the need for Kevin Youkilis to switch sides in the age-old turf war in the Northeast. Remarkably, the Yankees found an almost exact offensive replacement in Youkilis. Check out their last three years:
So despite being post-peak, Youkilis has retained enough of his power and patience to be a near doppelganger to the man he needs to replace. Because he was coming off his worst year, he was available on a one-year deal that fit the Yankees needs. He didn’t cost prospects like a Michael Young, either.
Doesn’t really look like there are any problems here that a quick shave can’t save.
The problem does not stem from Youkilis’ talent, instead it comes from his age and that same contract that seems to fit so well. It’s a one-year deal to a 34-year-old third baseman, and it has two outcomes — either Youkilis rebounds and gets a longer-term contract from a team other than the Yankees, or he doesn’t live up to his short-term contract and he won’t be much of an asset to the Yankees next year. Even if the Yankees’ only goal is to get under the $189 million threshold once in 2014, it doesn’t seem likely that either of those Youuk outcomes helps solve what might be a developing long-term need at third base.
Alex Rodriguez has managed to remain above average with the bat even as he has declined, but minus a one-year blip in 2011, his glove has begun to become a drag on his value. It’s not a direct line from his position to his age (37) to the myriad injuries that have kept him from 600 plate appearances since 2007, and averaging under 500 since 2010, but it’s likely that a trip down the defensive spectrum would help him stay healthier and help the team defense. And, after two years that ended in hip injuries, the departure date for that trip is approaching rapidly.
Despite having the highest-paid third baseman in the league, it looks like the Yankees are developing a long-term need at the position. The fact that Kevin Youkilis will not solve that problem is the only thing standing between this signing and a perfect rating.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.