Kevin Youkilis’ return to Boston has so far consisted of four hits in two games, including a homer and two doubles, and the Red Sox castoff is now batting .319 with four homers, a .965 OPS, and 18 RBIs in 18 games since being traded to the White Sox.
It’s early, of course, but he’s basically performing like vintage Youkilis from 2008-2010, hitting for average and power while drawing walks and controlling the strike zone. And the White Sox are 12-6 with him in the lineup.
Meanwhile, rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks has hit .191 for Boston since the trade and the Red Sox have already designated for assignment Brent Lillibridge, who’s one of the two marginal players they received in dumping Youkilis.
Toss in David Ortiz potentially missing time with an Achilles’ tendon injury and the idea that Boston’s excessive third base/first base/designated hitter depth made trading Youkilis a must no matter how well he went on to hit and how little they got in return is looking a whole lot more difficult to justify.
In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.
“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.
Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.