The White Sox would be wise to practice patience with Kevin Youkilis.
The Chicago White Sox cannot seem to distance themselves from the idea of bringing Kevin Youkilis back. Youkilis’ name is continually included in conversations about the White Sox and their need for a productive third baseman.
It is no secret that there is a considerable market for Youkilis. Nick Cafardo from the Boston Globe (h/t MLBDailyDish.com) reported that Youkilis’ agent said the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians are all players in signing him.
Another reason there is such a strong market for Youkilis rests in the fact that the free-agent market at third base is considered weak. So weak, in fact, that Youkilis is probably the best one available.
With no shortage of potential suitors, and a weak field of available free agents, Youkilis could find himself at the center of a financial fight for his services.
But, becoming involved in an increasingly expensive bidding war for Youkilis would be a bad idea for the White Sox for nine reasons.
To be clear, this is not about whether or not the White Sox should bring Youkilis back.
In fact, this column does not think the White Sox should, but Hahn seems intent on entertaining the idea.
CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman mentioned some time ago that a “two-year contract, perhaps in the $15 million range” could be agreeable to both the White Sox and Youkilis.
If a bidding war were to take place, however, that number could easily push to upwards of $20 million over the same span and may include a club option/buyout.
A contract of that proportion would be oversized and hurt the White Sox.
This column will look at the financial ramifications of outbidding other teams for Youkilis’ services. Some of the reasons have already been touched upon, but it is wise to take a fresh look at the situation.
At $10 million per year, Youkilis would make more than Pablo Sandoval.
A $20 million contract is just too much money to invest at third base for a player with Youkilis’ production. It is also too pricey if Hahn wants to keep payroll around $98 million, or “in the neighborhood” it was last season.
Looking around the league provides a sense of just how far out of line his production is compared to a contract of that value.
To begin, a contract worth $10 million annually would rank at the top of all third basemen.
In fact, with the retirement of Chipper Jones, a contract that size would make Youkilis the seventh highest paid player at the position.
For Hahn, a general manager who is known as a contract negotiator, that number simply does not make sense. It would be a misappropriation of funds.
It is no secret that Youkilis is not the player he once was.
Offensively, his batting average has gone down almost 25 percent over the past two seasons. His on-base percentage (OBP) has seen a similar dip, and that is what defined Youkilis as a player.
Known as the “Greek God of Walks,” Youkilis made a name for himself by consistently getting on base.
That is simply not the case anymore.
The White Sox saw the negative impact this had in the short time he was here.
While Youkilis was not the only reason the White Sox could not manufacture any runs down the stretch, the .220 batting average and .311 OBP he posted in September did not help.
There are not many, but thanks to the amount of pitching the White Sox have on the 40-man roster, Hahn does have some options.
The Sox have a stockpile of starting pitchers at the major league level and an equal number of minor league prospects. It is not out of the question that the White Sox could package one or two of them—potentially in a three-team trade—for a young third baseman ready to contribute.
Another option is Jeff Keppinger. He is available on the free-agent market and is coming off a very productive year for the Tampa Bay Rays. He recently broke his fibula, but from all accounts, he should be ready for spring training in 2013.
Michael Young is another option to be considered. His name was brought up by the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales.
Dayan Viciedo has been ruled out as an option for third base.
For arguments sake, let’s assume that Hahn is not able to pull off a trade for a young third baseman and the White Sox are forced to find a short-term solution.
A one-year investment makes the most sense, not a two-year commitment.
See, the multi-year contract that Youkilis will almost assuredly get as the result of a bidding war may impede what the White Sox can do moving forward to fill the position.
As it stands, the White Sox do not have any real options on the roster or in the minor league system. Hahn has all but ruled out moving left fielder Dayan Viciedo to third, and Carlos Sanchez is a middle infielder.
Without internal options, the White Sox need to find a young third baseman from outside the organization, now.
A multi-year contract for Youkilis could also hinder what the White Sox can do to lock up some of the young talent currently on the roster.
Now, it would not take a very strong argument to convince many Sox fans that Beckham can easily be replaced, but the others looks like keepers.
An oversized contract for Youkilis may put the Sox in an unenviable situation. Simply put, if too much money goes to Youkilis, the White Sox may not be able to be proactive with the contracts of their younger players.
De Aza, for example, is projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to make a minimum of $1.7 million if he makes it to arbitration. And if Sale (17-8, 3.05) can continue to produce at a high level, it is almost absurd to think of potential contract numbers.
Locking them up now makes the most sense. Youkilis could push those decisions off to a different time.
In exchange for Youkilis and cash, the White Sox sent the Red Sox utility player Brent Lillibridge and the seldom used Zach Stewart.
Now, if the White Sox were to secure Youkilis’ services following a prolonged bidding war, his high salary would, most likely, put Hahn in an identical situation should the White Sox underperform in 2013.
In essence, Hahn may be forced to shed payroll and receive little in return for Youkilis if his contract is too large.
The White Sox cannot afford to look the same next year.
Why bring back a player who, as a result of a bidding war, is overpriced when he did not help the team make it to the postseason the year prior?
It would make no sense.
The White Sox need to be fiscally prudent and find an alternative that is more reasonably priced—or younger—and has more potential to be productive over a longer period of time.
The White Sox are not in a financial position to compete with other potential suitors for Youkilis’ services.
This is especially true when the other teams are the Dodgers and Phillies. Their pockets are simply too deep.
Ken Rosenthal, from FoxSports.com, noted that the financial might of the Dodgers, for example, is a scary proposition for most general managers.
While the Dodgers have a couple of different options at third already in place—Juan Uribe, for example—Youkilis may be a fit. If the Dodgers are involved, the resulting contract negotiations may rapidly escalate into something that is well outside the White Sox’ means.
The Phillies also have a need at third and have not hesitated to pay aging players in the past.
If either one of those teams is actively engaged in trying to sign Youkilis, Hahn needs to step away immediately.
Finally, Hahn has to ask himself, which free agent is more important? Youkilis, or A.J. Pierzynski? Ultimately, which player provides the White Sox with more production?
The answer to that question is simple—Pierzynski.
And if Pierzynski has more worth, the he should be the one getting the attention.
After all, Pierzynski hit .278, knocked 27 home runs and had 77 RBI last season while leading a young pitching staff to unexpected success.
If Hahn has to get involved in a bidding war, he’d better be the highest bidder for Pierzynski, not Youkilis.