In fan voting, Kevin Youkilis was tabbed the AL's best hitter, an honor formerly bestowed on such luminaries like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
The official title of the award is the Hank Aaron award, and it comes on the heels of Youk's MVP-caliber (career?) season, a season in which he led the AL in RBI per at-bats (one for each 4.7).
Youk hammered 29 homers and grabbed a .312/.390/.569 line and 115 RBI. Coupled with his defensive prowess at first and third, he has a chance at being named the A.L. MVP.
Is he for real?
Don't forget that Youk is 29 and just completed his third full season as a starter in the major leagues. The Red Sox approached Youkilis about signing a long-term deal, but Youk rejected, preferring to go year to year to maximize his earning potential.
On Youk's end, it makes complete sense because he got a late start to his career.
Is he destined to flame out quickly or will he enjoy another decade of production?
One thing that's being overlooked in our upcoming first/third base conundrum (whether that's Mark Teixeira forcing their hand or Lars Anderson) is that it's very feasible that Youkilis is the one that exits, not Mike Lowell.
I've heard whispers over the year that Youkilis' body type doesn't bode well for holding up over his career, that while he's a good hitter, he's not a transcendent hitter like he was this season. He had a .569 slugging percentage this year, compare that to his career line of .472, inflated by that .569 number.
Proponents for Youk can point to Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez, who also got a late start to his career and didn't start full-time until his age 27 year, same as Youk.
He had solid, but not spectacular seasons at age 27 and 28, much like Youk. His age 29 year saw him bust out at .343/.404/.544 although it would take him until age 32 to finally get over 18 HR, when he hammered 29.
He retired in 2004 at age 41 as one of the better hitters of his decade.
Do the Red Sox view Youk as another E-Mart? That's not clear.
You would think that Youk would have signed his long-term pact already had the Sox given him fair market value, which makes you think the Sox are a little wary of his production and would prefer to go year-to-year at a higher dollar figure than sign him long-term to a similar figure.
If I'm Theo Epstein (which I'm not), I refrain from signing Mark Teixeira because of the clear talent of Lars Anderson, and I let 2009 dictate the future of Youkilis. All this talk about Mike Lowell breaking down and whatnot doesn't sell me on cutting the cord with him. He had a season a lot like 2006, which we were all perfectly happy with. I'm willing to give Lowell another year for the Sox to be able to further clarify their position.
It's obvious that Youk is a good ballplayer. He can get on base and he
packs enough average and power that he could start for any team in the
majors. But will he be a good ballplayer in the future, or will he
start to break down so often that he'll be robbed of his abilities?
Words like "doughy" have been tossed around, but I'm not so much as concerned about that as I am his ability three years from now. I don't have any knowledge of which to make predictions, but I'm not sold on his long-term potential. I've seen it firsthand, watching a Boston hero break down.
Nomar Garciaparra was once on top of the world, remember. These last two years, he's been a utilityman.
One thing you can say about Theo and his corps is that they've shown a remarkable ability to determine when a player will break down and cutting the cord with them. Pedro Martinez, Bill Mueller and Trot Nixon spring to mind.
Is Kevin Youkilis another Edgar Martinez? Or will he become another Nomar Garciaparra?