White Sox general manager Kenny Williams has a Stanford education. Is that why he’s smarter than everyone else in baseball?
Here’s why I make that comment. He knows he has a problem at third base. His youngster, Brent Morel, isn’t quite ready. He struggles and is now injured. Veteran Orlando Hudson, a Gold Glove second baseman in his day, starts playing third but isn’t hitting so hot.
So Williams is searching for a third baseman, one of the toughest tasks any GM has, because there aren’t many of those guys.
And sitting there is Kevin Youkilis.
The Red Sox have a lineup issue because Will Middlebrooks has won the third base job and they no longer want to keep using Adrian Gonzalez in right field to allow Youkilis to play first.
“Hey Kenny, we’ll pick up most of his salary —
So Youkilis is being offered. The Red Sox are saying this three-time All-Star, a .287 career hitter with a .387 on-base percentage and .873 OPS, is out there for the taking.
So Williams hands over Zach Stewart, a guy with a ton of potential and a big arm who simply hasn’t panned out for the three previous teams he was with. Williams recognizes this as an opportunity to move him to where he might flourish in a different system. Cherington also needed some protection at third base, which Brent Lillibridge gives him.
So where was everyone else?
We know the Indians were involved because they needed offense and a corner infielder. Youkilis would have been perfect. With Travis Hafner on the disabled list at the time, Youkilis seemed right for them. But those talks fizzled when the Indians couldn’t come up with a player to satisfy Boston’s demands, which didn’t seem that great.
I’m looking at the Pirates and thinking, why not them? Pedro Alvarez hasn’t been very good, and they don’t have a good first baseman per se (using Garrett Jones against righthanded pitching). But those talks never got very far.
The Dodgers? James Loney isn’t exactly a ball of fire at first base, and Youkilis would be an upgrade over Elian Herrera at third. The Dodgers have a chance to win the NL West, so why not bring in a veteran on-base guy with a proven track record who could make a difference in your lineup? If the proposal was indeed Youkilis for Loney, you can see why the Red Sox wouldn’t be interested. They don’t need a lefthanded-hitting first baseman.
The Dodgers have turned their attention to Houston first baseman Carlos Lee, who would have to waive his no-trade.
Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Toronto all could have used Youkilis, but being in the division, that wasn’t going to happen. The Diamondbacks needed offense and could have used him at third base, but they backed off. The Braves had some interest as protection for Chipper Jones, who is retiring and has been breaking down.
It was baffling.
“I think there was a feeling that Youkilis wasn’t a healthy player anymore and that his skills weren’t what they used to be,” said one scout. “I think there was a great discrepancy between what he was and what he is now. So if you’re making a recommendation to your GM as to why you should go get him, there wasn’t a compelling reason to stick your neck out and commit to him.”
OK, but . . .
“I think all you had to do was rewrite your expectations of him,” said another NL scout. “He was a great hitter at one time, but he’s still a dangerous hitter. He’s still a guy who can help your lineup, grind at-bats, wear down the pitcher, help the hitters around him with his presence.
“He still gives 100 percent effort in the field, sets a tone with his hustle. He still does all those things.”
And if you messed up and found that Youkilis wasn’t the same hitter anymore, so what? You basically were giving up players who were not consequential to your survival. So where was the risk? What was the downside?
OK, over the past couple of years, stories surfaced that Youkilis was becoming chirpy and disgruntled. Fine. That’s always been there. But Youkilis was never a bad guy. Former Globe columnist Jackie MacMullan, writing for ESPNBoston.com, cited a source who referred to him as a cancer in the clubhouse late last season when all heck was breaking loose; that was the strongest thing anyone ever wrote about Youkilis.
The injury situation with Youkilis was certainly real. But the Red Sox put him out there for everyone to see, and his health seemed to get better and better. And with that, his approach at the plate got better. He was again being patient, getting deeper into counts, driving the ball to all fields.
Once you saw that, why wouldn’t you think he was worth the risk? This could be a case where the teams that passed may kick themselves.
It was a great move by Williams, who was persuaded to get Youkilis by Buddy Bell, the White Sox vice president of minor league operations.
Like Youkilis, Bell was a 33-year-old third baseman when the Rangers traded him to Cincinnati. The Rangers manager at the time was Bobby Valentine, who wanted to go with the younger Steve Buechele.
“Every time I watch him, he’s always dirty,” Bell told the Chicago Tribune. “Some guys just get dirty because they fall down a lot; some guys get dirty because they play their ass off, whether it’s going to first or anything else.
“He’s just so into every at-bat, every game. He’s always sweaty, dirty, I like that.”
Who doesn’t like that, if you’re a contending team that needs a hard-nosed player?
Baseball is funny sometimes. All you hear is the need for a righthanded corner infielder. Duh. There was one right there for the taking. And so many teams whiffed.
Apropos of something
So what are the Red Sox to do once they get their full squad back? Roster overload will soon hit Boston. Consider:
Outfielders: Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Scott Podsednik.
Starters: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, Aaron Cook.
Relievers: Clay Mortensen, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla, Mark Melancon, Daniel Bard, Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves.
I know this much: Morales is not leaving that rotation. He may be Boston’s best starting pitcher right now. With seven starters, it appears someone will have to go on a two-week (disabled list) vacation, and next in line would be Doubront. Let’s face it, Doubront has never pitched this many innings, and he probably could use a chance to refresh his arm.
There is also the possibility of dealing a starter. Cook would appear to be the easiest to deal, and there would be interest.
The bullpen situation is interesting. Mortensen and Melancon have options, so sending them down is the likely solution unless someone gets hurt. But it would be difficult to keep them in Pawtucket. Melancon was Houston’s closer last season and Mortensen has been very good.
The outfield situation likely requires some combination of a trade and a release. Kalish will likely return to Pawtucket after Ellsbury returns, unless he gets red-hot. Nava has options, but he would be sent down over Bobby Valentine’s dead body. By hook or by crook, he stays on the team even when Crawford returns.
The Sox likely will get trade offers for Ross, but Ben Cherington told me he is not inclined to do that. Righthanded power bats aren’t easy to find.
Sweeney, Podsednik, and McDonald are all trade possibilities. McDonald may have to be designated for assignment. Brent Lillibridge or Nick Punto could be dealt.
So stay tuned. There should be some interesting roster decisions, some of which could lead to a big deal at the deadline.
Apropos of nothing
1. Former Red Sox farmhand Anthony Rizzo had 163 RBIs in 163 games between Tucson in 2011 and Iowa this season. He is now the Cubs’ regular first baseman.
2. The Pirates had a scary moment Tuesday night when Double A Altoona righty Gerrit Cole, their top prospect and the first overall selection in last year’s draft out of UCLA, was struck in the neck by a line drive in the first inning. He stayed in but was removed after the inning because he had thrown 33 pitches. Cole will make his next start Sunday. He is 1-1, 7.50, in two starts for Altoona after going 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA for Single A Bradenton in 13 starts.
3. The Padres have used the most players this season, 45, but the Red Sox and A’s are right behind at 42. Last year, the A’s used 48, their fewest since 2006 (40). The A’s currently have nine rookies on their active roster (Yoenis Céspedes, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, A.J. Griffin, Jim Miller, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Jarrod Parker, and Evan Scribner).
4. There is talk of moving in the fences at Safeco Field. Mariners hitters can’t reach them.
5. The White Sox are looking for another starting pitcher.
6. Pirates GM Neal Huntington and his staff, especially assistant Marc DelPiano, did a great job identifying the fact that A.J. Burnett is best served in a smaller market. Great call.
7. My Red Sox All-Stars: David Ortiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Scott Atchison.
8. Worth repeating: When I asked Bobby Valentine if we would ever see Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield again, he said, “Yes. In the World Series.”
9. Fourteen players have played the outfield for the Red Sox this season: Lars Anderson, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Marlon Byrd, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Repko, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, Scott Podsednik, Nate Spears, Che-Hsuan Lin, Brent Lillibridge, Daniel Nava, and Gonzalez.
10. It’s great that Lance Lynn is 10-3 in the Cardinals rotation filling in for Chris Carpenter, but he was being counted on as a late-inning reliever. The St. Louis bullpen has lost 14 games and blown 13 saves in 29 opportunities. One saving grace is Jason Motte, who has 16 saves in 20 attempts.
Updates on nine
1. Bob Apodaca, former pitching coach, Rockies — Last week, we suggested that if Apodaca was let go from his duties, he may have a landing spot with the Red Sox since he was once Bobby Valentine’s pitching coach in New York. Well, Apodaca resigned as pitching coach and now serves as a special assistant to GM Dan O’Dowd. Apodaca had had enough. The Rockies switched to a four-man rotation, then shifted that thinking to a seven-man rotation in which the pitchers will be used as starters and long relievers. Yikes. One name that has cropped up to replace Apodaca is Boston pitching coach Bob McClure. This might make an interesting swap.
2. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Astros — Yankees GM Brian Cashman would love to find starters to replace CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte from within, but if that’s not possible, he’ll look outside. One National League GM said that while Rodriguez would be a good fit for the Yankees, he doesn’t believe he is their cup of tea. They would likely gravitate more toward Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, and even Zack Greinke. The Yankees have the young chips to satisfy any team.
3. Jeff Francoeur, RF, Royals — Interesting outfielder on the trade market. Francoeur is an excellent defender with a strong arm and a righthanded hitter who would fit into a lot of teams’ plans. Will Myers is on the way in Kansas City, making Francoeur expendable. The Royals, who believe they are in position to go for it, need pitching.
4. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners — It would be a terrible burden to place on manager Eric Wedge, but the absentee Japanese ownership loves Suzuki and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the veteran get another contract. That is, if he wants it. Suzuki’s abilities have declined, and Wedge’s attempt to get him going by moving him from first to third and back to first in the lineup have only worked to a point. It seems that ownership would stick with a player for the sake of reputation.
5. Scott Podsednik, OF, Red Sox — Talk about a player who has new value. When Podsednik comes off the disabled list and shows he’s healthy, he will have a market. The Nationals and Marlins will have interest.
6. Zack Greinke, SP, Brewers — His future with the Brewers is tied to whether they can work out a reasonable contract extension, and/or whether the Brewers feel they’re still in the hunt. One team to watch for, if the Brewers entertain a deal, is Baltimore. The notion that Greinke needs a smaller market because of his past anxiety issues is still very much in play.
7. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels — One of the best acquisitions of the season, by Angels GM Jerry Dipoto. Entering Saturday, he had made 23 consecutive scoreless appearances since joining the Angels May 3 (23⅓ innings, 6 hits, no runs,). He struck out 38 of the first 85 batters he faced and was the first pitcher in history to make 13 appearances without allowing a hit to begin his tenure with a particular team.
8. Brian Fuentes, LHP, A’s — He’s so up and down that you never know which Fuentes will show up. Is he worth a gamble if you’re a team in need of a lefty reliever? The A’s have made it known that Fuentes is available and the return doesn’t have to break the bank.
9. Vernon Wells, OF, Angels — One of the best people in baseball, but his career has never been what it was supposed to be. Even now, if Wells would waive his no-trade clause, he would be available. With the need for righthanded-hitting outfielders, some team (Dodgers, Indians, Pirates) would likely take the chance if the Angels picked up the majority of the $53 million remaining on his deal.
From the Bill Chuck files: “R.U. listening, R.A? The only knuckleballers to ever get Cy Young Award votes are Phil Niekro, who finished second in 1969, third in 1974, sixth in 1978 and 1979, and fifth in 1982, and Tim Wakefield, who finished third in 1995.” Also, “The best OPS for a 20-year-old was the 1.084 by Mel Ott in 1929. The Angels’ Mike Trout is at .934, just under Frank Robinson’s .936, but just over Mickey Mantle’s .924.” . . . Ryan Lavarnway was hitting .320 (with only seven homers) in Pawtucket and doesn’t have a chance of getting up unless there’s an injury to a catcher or the Red Sox deal Kelly Shoppach . . . The Tigers are built on power, right? Then why are they 11th in the AL in homers? . . . Happy birthday to Billy Rohr (67) and Frank Baumann (79).
Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report. Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.