Will New York Fans Ever Truly Accept Kevin Youkilis in a Yankees Uniform?

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Will New York Fans Ever Truly Accept Kevin Youkilis in a Yankees Uniform?

It's going to be downright strange for fans of the Boston Red Sox to get used to seeing Kevin Youkilis in a New York Yankees uniform.

For that matter, it may not be any easier for fans of the Yankees to adjust to the spectacle of Youk in pinstripes. Accepting him as one of the organization's own is going to require at least a shred of effort, and maybe even a lot of effort for some fans.

But what's done is done. The Yankees were rumored to be courting Youkilis as a fill-in for Alex Rodriguez at third base, and Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported Tuesday evening that the two sides have agreed to join forces:

Rosenthal noted in a full report that the deal is pending a physical, as these things usually are. Hopefully, the Yankees won't discover that Youkilis is a medical train wreck like the guy he's stepping in for.

Youkilis was last seen playing for the Chicago White Sox, but who cares about that? This is all about a former Red Sox jumping ship to the Evil Empire, which always makes for great water-cooler fodder.

This isn't the first time that a former Red Sox star has jumped ship to The Bronx. Notably, Wade Boggs traded his Red Sox colors for pinstripes roughly 20 years ago, and Roger Clemens eventually followed in his footsteps (via Toronto). More recently, Johnny Damon made the jump.

Yankees fans came to like these guys well enough. They didn't have much of a choice, really, as Boggs, Clemens and Damon were productive players who helped the Yankees win the World Series.

Youkilis, however, is in a slightly different boat. During his tenure with the Yankees' No. 1 rival, Youk was something of a marked individual rival. He repeatedly punished Yankees pitchers at the plate—he has a .915 career OPS against the Bombers—and we all well remember his feud with right-hander Joba Chamberlain. 

Some Bombers fans are sure to have mixed feelings about Youk coming aboard. Others may not be very welcoming simply because he'll be just another over-the-hill player joining a roster that already has more than its fair share of them. 

As such, the consensus about the club's signing of Youkilis likely isn't that he's just what the doctor ordered for the Bombers. Some will say "yay." Others will say "nay." Others still will say "meh." 

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Youk may not be capable of appeasing whatever doubters he may have in New York. He's clearly not the hitter he once was, as his OPS has declined drastically each of the last three years, and even his trademark patience all but disappeared in 2012. Per FanGraphs, Youk posted his lowest walk rate since 2008 and the second-highest strikeout rate of his career.

Just as concerning is how Youk was only a capable hitter when he played at home, whether it was at Fenway Park or US Cellular Field. He had a .960 OPS in home games in 2012 and a .557 OPS in road games.

The Yankees are not necessarily upgrading their situation at third base in going from A-Rod to Youkilis. The two played in the exact same number of games in 2012, and Rodriguez posted better numbers across the board. A-Rod is declining, but so is Youkilis.

There's thus a possibility that Youk will do the impossible in 2013 and make fans actually miss A-Rod. Thanks to Youk, Rodriguez could return to the tune of a standing ovation when he finally comes off the disabled list midway through the season.

Given the kind of season Youkilis just had, this is the scenario that every Yankees fan should prepare for. The Yankees will be hoping for numbers, but they may just have to settle for an unspectacular placeholder. In that case, the hope will be that Youkilis will at least add something to the team's clubhouse culture.

On the bright side, this is where there's considerably more hope for the newest Yankee.

Youkilis has toned down his act in recent years—he no longer goes on rampages in the dugout every time he makes an out—but he's still a competitor. He's going to be on the good side of every Yankees player who truly wants to win, as he was in Boston with star second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

"I know that Youk plays as hard as anybody I've ever seen in my life," said Pedroia after former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine criticized Youkilis' desire early in 2012, via WEEI.com. "I have his back, and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays."

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Umpires can also vouch for Youk's competitive fire.

The Yankees have an excellent on-field leader in Derek Jeter and plenty of high-character guys, but they could stand to add a little fire to the mix. This appears to be true now more than ever before after a gritty Detroit Tigers team bulldozed them in the American League Championship Series.

Youk should be able to bring grit, toughness and other Clint Eastwood-esque qualities to the clubhouse. And if he is able to do that, going from A-Rod to him at third base may not end up feeling like a downgrade even if the numbers aren't there. For his intangibles alone, the fans could actually come to love Youk just as much as Red Sox fans used to.

Granted, his intangibles won't be worth much if the Yankees aren't winning ballgames, as a desire to win is quite useless amidst poor numbers and a pile of losses. And given how much the quality of the AL East around the Yankees has risen this winter while they've largely stayed put, a poor season could be in the cards. They'll need to add more than Youkilis in order to enjoy their usual success.

It's certainly safe to assume that Brian Cashman and his underlings surely won't stop at Youkilis this offseason. There may be no big signings in store, but Cashman will at least find ways to fill the club's roster with quality major leaguers

Assuming he does, Youkilis will be just another role player in 2013. It will be easy to praise him when things are going well, but the more rational fans will know not to blame him too much when things aren't going well. If the Yankees stumble out of the gate or even all season long, it won't be Youk's fault.

The most rational fans, meanwhile, will know not to hold Youk's ties to the Red Sox against him, as they'll have absolutely nothing to do with whatever predicaments the Yankees may find themselves in.

Besides, Youkilis was last seen wearing White Sox pinstripes, and he didn't exactly leave Boston as a hero. After the way he was treated towards the end, he'll probably have no reservations whatsoever about sticking it to his former club when the Yankees and Red Sox hook up. That would surely be one way for him to score points with his doubters.

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You could say that Youkilis is coming to the Yankees at an opportune time. Unlike Boggs, Clemens and Damon before him, Youk is no longer a star player whom the Yankees would be investing heavily in. The Yankees have a relatively small amount of money riding on him, and the bulk of their fans hopefully know better than to demand greatness from him.

As such, it's going to be a heck of a lot easier for the fans to come to like him than it will be for them to come to hate him. 

It could be that pinstripes will never look right on Youkilis. The time for Yankees fans to treat him as a nemesis, however, is already in the past.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 


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