Youkilis clashed with manager Bobby Valentine early in the season when the skipper questioned his mental and physical interest in playing the game. Tensions remained between the two until Youkilis was dealt away.
But now Valentine is gone. Also no longer with the Red Sox is Josh Beckett, who reportedly accused Youkilis of being the "snitch" who blew the whistle on the fried-chicken-and-beer follies that contributed to the team's epic 2011 late-season collapse.
With Youkilis being such a popular player and a key part of the Red Sox team for six seasons (including the World Series championship team in 2007), could he return to Boston now that those he feuded with are gone?
NESN's Zach Stoloff asks that very question now that the White Sox declined Youkilis' $13 million option for 2013, making him a free agent.
The Red Sox have an opening Youkilis could fill at first base. Adrian Gonzalez was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. James Loney, who came over from the Dodgers in return, batted .230 with a .574 OPS and was a non-factor.
At this point in Youkilis' career, first base might be a better position for him than third base anyway. Youkilis has actually played more games at first base during his career, 607 compared to the 442 he's played at third.
The emergence of Will Middlebrooks at third base was what made Youkilis expendable in the first place, along with his poor play. Middlebrooks hit .288 with an .835 OPS, 15 homers and 54 RBI before getting hit by a pitch and suffering a broken wrist. But third base is his job now in Boston.
Prior to being traded, Youkilis batted .233 with a .692 OPS, four home runs and 14 RBI for the Red Sox. He seemed rejuvenated with the White Sox, however, hitting 15 homers with 46 RBI and a .771 OPS.
But those aren't monster numbers, especially at a power position like first base. If the Red Sox are looking for a top slugger at that spot, there are much better options on the free-agent market. Adam LaRoche, for instance, would be a great fit in Boston.
Other possibilities could include Nick Swisher or Mike Napoli, though both players have played more at different positions. Swisher will likely get offers to play the outfield, while Napoli will be highly in demand as a catcher.
However, if Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington prefers to use the payroll flexibility he gained on upgrading the outfield, starting rotation or bullpen, a less expensive player that could provide some run production might be appealing.
While Youkilis isn't going to slug 25-30 home runs with 100 RBI, he could hit 18-20 homers and drive in 70 runs.
Yet that's presuming his skills don't continue to deteriorate as they have during the past two seasons. The Boston front office witnessed that decline firsthand and may feel that they've already moved on from Youkilis.
But the Red Sox can't exactly say that they're trying to start a new era at Fenway Park. Bringing back John Farrell—one of Terry Francona's prized assistant coaches—seems to indicate that the team wants a return to the early years of the Francona era circa 2004 to 2007.
Bringing back Youkilis and reuniting him with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz could give fans a reminder of the success that the Red Sox want to find again. And for a team that might end up relatively young, depending on who Cherington adds to the roster, that trio could provide some valuable leadership.
This is all assuming, of course, that Youkilis wants to return to the Red Sox.
Though coming back to the team and city where he had his best years as a major leaguer would appear to be intriguing, perhaps he's already moved on as well. What if Valentine and Beckett weren't the only clubhouse issues he wanted to get away from in Boston?
The White Sox declined Youkilis' option because they didn't want to pay him $13 million. But the team needs a third baseman for next season and is presumably happy with the production Youkilis provided at that position.
So if he's willing to come back at a lower salary, maybe on a two-year deal, then Youkilis might prefer to return to the south side of Chicago.
The White Sox finished only three games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central and might think they can make a run next season. Re-signing Jake Peavy to a two-year contract seems to be an indication of those ambitions.
But maybe it will come down to which color Sox Youkilis prefers to wear next season.
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