The contradiction that is Kevin Youkilis

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Usually when a guy is described as a gritty, intense gamer, you can count on him being (a) universally loved by his teammates; and (b) not that good a player, actually (see, Eckstein, David). Kevin Youkilis, on the other hand, is the rarest of things: a gritty, MVP-quality player who, surprising to me at least, has some teammates who aren’t real fans.

This last bit of info comes in the course of an excellent profile of Youk in the Boston Globe.  We all know he’s an outstanding player who plays hard so I’ll skip the MVP and grit talk and focus on the unexpected bit:

So why, then, is this Everyman not unequivocally embraced and revered by his teammates? Why, when a reporter approaches another key Red Sox player to speak about Youkilis does he respond, “I’d rather refrain”? . . . “At one point some of the veterans came up to me and said, ‘Can you talk to this guy?’ ” manager Terry Francona said.

This isn’t a gossip piece, though, and Globe writer Jackie MacMullan does a great job of explaining the reasons why Youkilis, though seemingly universally respected, often rubs his teammates the wrong way.  To his credit, Youkilis doesn’t back away from any of it, explaining his dustup with Manny Ramirez a few years ago and trying his best to make the reader understand the unique circumstances of a guy who, while not as gifted as your typical superstar, has nonetheless managed to become one.

And that seems to be the nub of the problem, such as it is: Youkilis doesn’t fit neatly into that gifted/hard worker dichotomy with which most of us — and most ballplayers, in all likelihood — are familiar.  They probably tolerate lesser players beating up trash cans more than stars, because the lesser players aren’t expected to lead and set the tone like stars are.  Youk is an uncomfortable mix of the two and thus problems are likely to arise.

I’ll admit that I’m no Sox fan, and I can pretty much take or leave Youk, but this article casts a new enough light on both him and the team that I’ll be watching tonight’s Sox-Angels game with a bit more interest than I might have otherwise.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.