In July 2004, the Boston Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra, one of their longest-tenured and most popular players, to the Chicago Cubs. Garciaparra was still productive, but he'd just turned 30, and both his bat and his glove had slipped. Worse, he'd been wounded by Boston's attempt to trade for Alex Rodriguez the previous winter and had reportedly become a distraction in the clubhouse. With Garciaparra a few months away from free agency, the Sox made the bold decision to ship him to Chicago for Orlando Cabrera, improving both their defense and their chemistry with a single swap.
We know how that trade turned out. The Red Sox won the World Series, and Garciaparra continued to decline, turning in a subpar season for the Cubs in '05 and remaining only marginally effective until his retirement in 2010.
Late last month, the Red Sox made a similar midseason swap with a Chicago club, trading another over-30 fan favorite and impending free agent who'd become a divisive force in the clubhouse and a diminished one on the field. This time, the team was the White Sox, and the player was Kevin Youkilis.
From 2006, his first full year, through 2010, Youkilis was Boston's most valuable player, averaging nearly five WARP per season. But in 2011, Youkilis was worth just over two wins, as separate DL stints for lower back tightness and a sports hernia sapped his strength and limited his availability. He had surgery for the hernia last October, but this season, the back problems returned, sending him to the DL for 23 days. When he was able to play, he played poorly, hitting just .233/.315/.377. Thirty-three years old, with a balky back and a below-average bat, Youkilis looked like he might be approaching the end of the line. And with rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks thriving and Youkilis feuding with manager Bobby Valentine, Boston decided to bail on Youkilis, sending him to the White Sox on June 24 for roughly $2.5 million in salary relief, since-released utility man Brent Lillibridge, and Zach Stewart, a low-ceiling right-handed starter now pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket.
In 19 games and 86 plate appearances after the trade, as Youkilis is making the Pale Hose happy by hitting .315/.407/.534. Middlebrooks, whose .326/.365/.583 line at the time of the trade seemed to make Youkilis expendable, has slumped to .192/.204/.346 since, as poor plate discipline has taken its toll. (His 5.7 strikeouts-to-walk ratio is the third-worst of any AL batter with at least 200 PAs.) On a team level, the Red Sox have gone 9-11, while the White Sox have won 12 of 19.