By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) This week the baseball teams on both sides of town will add meaningful pieces to their rosters. They are both guys who fans are putting a lot of stock in, each in a different fashion.
The White Sox acquired Kevin Youkilis from the Boston Red Sox on Sunday for pitcher Zach Stewart and utility man Brent Lillibridge. Youkilis is expected by many to be the key piece for a playoff run.
On the North Side, the Cubs are expected to call up highly-touted prospect Anthony Rizzo this week, maybe as soon as Tuesday. Not only is he highly talented, but Rizzo is also the first real piece of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding of the Cubs.
Both Youkilis and Rizzo are seen right now by their respective fan bases to be lifting their teams to the next step—one near the bottom of the stairs and one near the top—and are expected to immediately pay huge dividends the moment they pick up a bat in a Chicago uniform. The excitement over both guys is warranted, but I suggest pumping the brakes just a bit.
I like the Youkilis trade by Kenny Williams. The Sox GM scored a solid clubhouse guy and proven winner, and also got him cheap, convincing the Red Sox to eat all but $2 million remaining on Youkilis’ contract expiring at the end of the season. There is no question that the White Sox got better with the trade Sunday. No sane person would argue that Orlando Hudson is a better option at third base because, well, Hudson just isn’t very good at baseball anymore. He’s also frightening playing the hot corner. Even Hudson said that he would have made the Youkilis trade, so at least give him points for refreshing honesty.
And guys like Stewart and Lillibridge are probably not key cogs in a championship machine, so there’s little pain in waving goodbye to them. But Sox fans need to beware of loving a trade for a famous name rather than understanding the player the team acquired. This is not the Yoooooooouuuuuk of the dominant Red Sox teams from a few years back. This is an older, creekier player in the autumn of his career.
In a similar fashion, Cubs fans need to beware of expecting some sort of Roy Hobbs performance by Rizzo out of the major league gate.
Youkilis has had an ugly 2012 so far. .233/.315/.377 shows that. He’s also been dinged up this season, most notably missing 22 games with a back injury, and hitters with back injuries are like tramp stamps on a grandma—approach with caution. He’s also 33 years old, and—to paraphrase Mike Ditka—not going to get a whole lot better. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA formula projects him to hit just 10 home runs with 36 RBI this season, for what that’s worth.
The .315 OBP worries me the most. “The Greek God of Walks” has a career OBP of .388, but there has been a decline since his huge 2008 and 2009 seasons suggesting Youkilis peaked in those years and will not again come close to matching those numbers. He’ll still be better than the .167 batting average and one homer Sox third basemen have combined for so far this season—last in baseball. They were also last in the majors in OBP, slugging, RBIs and extra-base hits from the position. But will he be a polar opposite of those numbers? Probably not.
In a completely opposite scenario than that of Youkilis, Anthony Rizzo likely begins a major league career this week on a team with no postseason hopes. Rizzo has been eating Triple-A pitching like Jessica Simpson at a ribfest. His .345 average and 23 home runs with the Iowa Cubs this year is more than eye-popping, and with reports that he may be in the Cubs lineup against the Mets Tuesday–he’s in the Iowa Cubs lineup for Monday—Cub nation is finally getting their Christmas morning in an otherwise depressing season of garbage baseball.
Many baseball folk consider Rizzo a will-be-successful major leaguer, but it isn’t clear if that will happen right away. After destroying baseballs for Triple-A Tucson in the San Diego Padres system in 2011, Rizzo played in 49 games for the big club and posted a very unimpressive .141/.281/.242 line.
While I, too, am as excited as any other Cubs fan to finally experience Chrizzomas (patent pending) and have waited for his call up all season, I’m also keeping my salivary glands in check as much as possible. The kid will only be 23 in a month and a half, and he has to be feeling the pressure of many Cubs fans thinking he’s “the one.” I hope he doesn’t try to do too much too soon, to live up to many unrealistic expectations of saving this franchise in a lost season (and probably a lost 2013 as well).
The best thing for Rizzo is to just experience major league pitching as much as possible. He needs to establish making consistent contact and not worry about lighting up the unlightable Wrigley scoreboard. I want to see him be an Epstein player—work counts and get on base any way possible. The homers and RBI will come once he’s comfortable and shows other teams that he’s disciplined at the dish. If he’s too anxious, if he tries to immediately carry an unbearable load, expect to see those 2011 Padres numbers rear their ugly heads again.
Again, the Cubs aren’t going to be a playoff team this year or next year. Rizzo doesn’t need to be a superstar yet. He needs to polish his skills while the Epstein Cubs are being gradually built into a contender.
Be excited, White Sox and Cubs fans. You are both getting important players on your favorite teams’ rosters this week. Important doesn’t necessarily mean a cure-all, though.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.