Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 6/19/12

The trade market for Kevin Youkilis is heating up. With Will Middlebrooks playing well — and both first base and designated hitter occupied — it looks like Youkilis will be the odd man out in Boston.

But while the 33-year-old has been a strong offensive performer in the past, this year he’s been awful. Youkilis has hit just .215/.301/.341 this season, and that’s going to make it difficult for the Red Sox to get anything useful in return for him. The Sox realize this, and are reportedly willing to pay some of Youkilis’ remaining contract as an enticement to get a better package for him. But with Youkilis slipping offensively, teams will be hesitant to offer anything of value for the third baseman.

Ironically, the player known as the “Greek God of Walks” has a walk rate of just 8.5% — easily his worst of his career. Equally troubling is the fact that his strikeout rate has jumped to 25.5%, another career-worst. Youkilis has been so bad offensively, that his wRC+ is just 74. In other words, he’s been 26% worse than the average third baseman this season. For comparison, that puts him in the same company as Alberto Callaspo and Sean Rodriguez.

Those numbers are far more concerning now that Youkilis has entered his decline phase. One of the biggest indicators that a player is declining is bat speed. Unfortunately for Youkilis, he hasn’t been able to get around on fastballs as often this year. Youkilis has always hit the pitch well during his career — compiling a 148.7 pitch value against fastballs. But this season, he’s been below average (-1.0) for the first time in his career.

Youkilis is also making less contact this season. Each one of his contact rates — O-Contact%, Z-Contact% and Contact% — have fallen this year. When he has made contact, Youkilis hasn’t been able to put the ball in the air. Only 26.8% of his batted balls are categorized as fly balls. That’s a steep decline from his 43.1% career rate. It’ll be tough for Youkilis to hit for much power if he continues to be a ground-ball machine.

While some of Youkilis’ struggles can be attributed to a back injury, that’s also a reason for concern. Youkilis has never been known as a durable player. The last time he had 600 plate appearances was 2008. And now that Youkilis has gotten older, his injuries have become more frequent. If a team acquired him, they’d be taking a huge risk.

Youkilis will be owed roughly $6 million the rest of the season. For the Red Sox to get something significant in return, they’d have to eat a large chunk of that salary. There are certainly teams in the race that could use help at third — namely the Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians — and Youkilis would represent an upgrade over their current options. There’s also the Los Angeles Dodgers, which could finally rid themselves of James Loney and put Youkilis back at first base.

Even if those teams are desperate for help at their corner infield slots, they shouldn’t have to give up any significant prospects for Youkilis. Middlebrooks’ play has made Youkilis redundant. If the Red Sox continue to play Youkilis at third, they’ll do so at the expense of Middlebrooks. And since the Red Sox already have better players at first and DH, the Red Sox don’t have a lot of leverage. If the Red Sox were to cover most — or all — of Youkilis’ remaining salary, it’s possible they could receive a low-level impact player. Maybe a reliever or a good bat off the bench. But right now, there’s no reason for a team to break the bank on Youkilis.

Even with his struggles, there is going to be a market for Kevin Youkilis. And while he would represent upgrades at third for some contending teams, he would be even more valuable moving back to first base. That makes the Dodgers and the Indians two of the teams that should be inquiring about Youkilis. And considering Kenny Williams is no stranger to taking risks, the White Sox will likely be involved as well. He’s had a history of success, and there will probably be a team willing to take a risk on him turning things around. But unless he starts producing soon, the Red Sox are going to receive pennies on the dollar for him.


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