Yankees fans should give Kevin Youkilis a clean slate


In my mind as soon as the New York Yankees sign, trade for or draft a player he becomes someone I will root for. As a fan of the team, I want each player to be successful during their time in pinstripes. I have no interest in holding a grudge against a player who used to play for the enemy, but it seems that as of now I am in the minority where it concerns the signing of Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis, who agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Yankees Tuesday, was a part of the Boston Red Sox teams that erased years of disappointment and became a major thorn in the Yankees’ foot. He’s had alternations with current Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain on more than one occasion. Now, they will find themselves in the same locker room with the same goal, helping the Yankees win the World Series.

That’s a tall order in and of itself, and wouldn’t it make it harder if Youkilis and Chamberlain were unable to bury the hatchet? Robinson Cano said it well the other day.

"“There are some guys, the way they play the game, some pitchers, the way they pitch the game, you say, ‘This guy is not a nice person,’  ” Robinson Cano said over the weekend at David Ortiz’s charity golf outing in the Dominican Republic. “I don’t think (Joba) ever hit him on purpose. I would tell you that (Joba) would be the first that’s gonna be happy to see him on our team.”"

Kevin Youkilis hopes to round the bases many times for the Yankees in 2013. (Image: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)

Cano is probably right about how Joba will react. We’ll have to see if Chamberlain addresses it at all in the coming days via Twitter or through the media. The point is it does no good for teammates to have ill will toward each other. If there is some deep rooted bad feelings among the two players, they’ll have to keep it out of the clubhouse, but I gather this is something that relates to action on the field and nothing more.

As for Yankees fans who are having such a hard time looking accepting Youkilis in pinstripes, it doesn’t take long to look back to recent history of players who have come from the Red Sox to the Yankees and helped win a World Series — Wade Boggs (1996), Roger Clemens (1999 & 2000) and Johnny Damon (2009). Of course, the Yankees do need lots of help this season beyond whatever they’ll get out of Youkilis, but there seems little need to boo the player because he used to play for the arch enemy.

After the Yankees announced Alex Rodriguez would be out through minimally June, but more likely the All-Star break due to upcoming surgery on his left hip, they lost out on guys like Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez. I liked the idea of Keppinger because of his versatility, but I understood why he wouldn’t accept a deal to the Yankees since he would end up in a utility spot down the road, whereas he’ll be given the starting third baseman’s job for an extended time in Chicago. I wasn’t so satisfied with the Yankees allowing Eric Chavez to walk away so easily, but he was not an everyday solution at third either. So, where else should the Yankees have looked?

The only player worth trading for, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres, is not going anywhere. The Yankees should probably thank the Cleveland Indians for taking on Mark Reynolds as it opened the door for a stronger pursuit of Youkilis; though I’m not certain the Yankees were deeply interested in Reynolds. He was probably a fallback if Youkilis had signed with the Indians for the reported two-year, $18 million deal they offered the soon to be 34-year-old.

Fans should take the same stance that the team has and that’s look at the player and ask if he can make a difference. He may not be the Yankees’ savior as Yanks Go Yard staffer Jimmy Kraft asked last week, but he certainly gives the Yankees a better opportunity to win than anyone else who was available on the open market, and that includes Keppinger and Chavez.

We shouldn’t expect a season remotely close to those he put up in his glory years with the Red Sox, but he did show some life with the bat in his time with the Chicago White Sox last season (15 homers and 46 RBIs in 344 plate appearances). Youkilis still sees a lot of pitches at the plate and while he is trending downward overall as a hitter, what’s to say he can’t turn things around this season? The Yankees must think he can.

In the end, he is likely here for just the one season. I have no problem with him using the Yankees’ opening as a chance to rebuild his stock for a better contract next season. My view is, if he has the kind of season that will provide him with such a deal for 2014, then he has done his job and helped the Yankees win ballgames. As fans, isn’t that all we can ask for?

I hope once the games begin and Youkilis takes his spot at third base in Yankee Stadium, he is warmly welcomed. Fans should give him a clean slate and allow him some time to acclimate to New York before beating him down. If he falters after an extended period of time to the extent that he is hurting the Yankees’ chances of winning, and the Bronx jeers ring out, so be it. Fans displeasure with a player should be about his performance and not because of where he’s played in the past. Kevin Youkilis is a Yankee now, let’s treat him like one.

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen in 2013…