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What Does Kevin Youkilis Trade Mean for Cleveland?

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The Chicago White Sox pulled off the first big-name trade of the season this weekend when they acquired Kevin Youkilis from the Boston Red Sox. That a player the Indians were reportedly in on (though the degree of their interest was not clear) is now suiting up for the AL Central-leading White Sox clearly has implications for Cleveland. But what exactly does it mean for the Tribe?

There are two real ways in which Youkilis’ move to Chicago affects the Indians: That they didn’t get him, and that the White Sox did. That he is not in Cleveland is of little consequence, but his presence in the Windy City could be a significant factor as the pennant race drags on.

That the Indians had called about Youkilis when the Red Sox made him available was no surprise at all. He could have been the impact right-handed bat this team sorely needs, and while Cleveland has plenty of depth at third base (Jack Hannahan, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Lopez) the idea of plugging an established veteran with a history of mashing the ball in at first base was appealing.

But Youkilis wouldn’t really have been a fit in Cleveland. With a .233/.314/.373 (83 wRC+) triple-slash to his name so far he hasn’t been that much better than incumbent Casey Kotchman (.226/.281/.341, 74 wRC+) with the bat and he possesses an inferior glove. Presumably he’ll rebound as the season wears on, but the team seems to prefer consistent mediocrity (Kotchman and Lopez) to risk with upside—otherwise, they should give Matt LaPorta a chance. Not to mention that he’d be just a three-month rental so there would be a hole at first base again as soon as 2013. He would have been nice to have, but the Indians were wise not to get caught up in a bidding war for his services.

The White Sox, however, have a huge hole at the hot corner. Before Youkilis, the four players Chicago has trotted out at third this year (Brent Morel, Orlando Hudson, Eduardo Escobar, and Brent Lillibridge) have combined for a horrid .168/.243/.224 triple-slash and an OPS+ of 30. A trade must be assessed in the context of the specific teams, and in this case even a question mark like Youkilis must seem a godsend to the White Sox.

Even if we assume that Youkilis will get only 300 plate appearances with Chicago this season and won’t rebound at all, the Simple WAR Calculator estimates that he’ll give the White Sox about a 2.0-WAR boost over their status quo at third base. Use instead his rest-of-season ZiPS projections (.262/.364/.466) and suddenly the South Siders project to win about an extra three games.

Three games might not seem like a lot, and either it’s quite possible that the division will be decided by far more than that. But play with the standings at the effect is dramatic: add three wins to the Sox’ total so far and they improve to 41-32 while the Indians would fall to 3.5 games behind. That’s hardly an insurmountable deficit with 90 games left to play, but it would turn the closest division race in baseball right now into one of the most uneven and it could easily end up making the difference come October.

There’s no shame in the Indians’ missing out on the “Greek God of Walks.” He wasn’t a real fit in Cleveland anyway, and there will surely be better ways for the Tribe to upgrade before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But the big improvement he represents for the White Sox could have a real effect in shifting the balance in the AL Central. Suffice to say, the Indians have some catching up to do.

Is the Kevin Youkilis trade bad for the Indians?

  • Yes, because he helps the White Sox (53%, 9 Votes)
  • No, it doesn't matter (41%, 7 Votes)
  • Yes, because the Indians needed him (6%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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Tags: Boston Red Sox Casey Kotchman Chicago White Sox Kevin Youkilis

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