|Kevin Youkilis takes stock of his place with the Red Sox||02.20.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
FORT MYERS — In 2004, Kevin Youkilis was the only rookie member of the first Red Sox championship team in 86 years. That being the case, he now finds himself at an unfamiliar vantage point.
Tim Wakefield has retired. Jason Varitek is not in camp, and may likewise be at the end of his tenure with the Red Sox.
That leaves Youkilis — who was taken by the Sox in the eighth round of the 2001 draft — as the longest tenured member of the organization, and the second-longest tenured member of the Red Sox big league roster, behind only David Ortiz (who started his Boston career in 2003, one year before Youkilis was called up).
“We’re very close to having no 2004 players. I get it now. It is kind of wild that that 2004 team, there’s only two of us left,” said Youkilis. “It’s crazy. I don’t know if that makes us seem older and how time flies. It’s definitely kind of weird. … That’s kind of the way baseball is. Guys keep coming and going. For us, David and I have definitely gotten a lot closer over the years. It’s one of those things like, ‘Man, can you believe we’re the only ones left here?’ I guess we’ve just got to keep that torch going for as many years as we can.”
Of course, the question of how long Youkilis will be entrusted with torch-carrying responsibilities with the Red Sox is an increasingly prominent one. The 32-year-old (he turns 33 next month) retained his status as one of the top hitters in the American League through the first half of last year, hitting .285 with a .399 OBP, .512 slugging mark and .911 OPS to earn a berth in the All-Star game. But, following the break, he was unable to remain productive while trying to play through a sports hernia and bursitis in his hip.
Youkilis hit .199 with a .314 OBP, .346 slugging mark and .660 OPS along with four homers in his last 37 games. He missed most of the final six weeks of the season due to his injuries, and was helpless to help pull his club out of its spiral.
“To sit back there and see all the losing and go in the clubhouse and see guys so upset and hurt, it’s tough. It was tough to watch,” said Youkilis. “No matter what you say, you can’t do anything. So when you sit there and you want to give advice and you put your little two cents in here and there, really it just hurts more to sit back and see guys pretty upset and beat up mentally from losing.”
Youkilis had surgery to repair the hernia following the season, and says that the bursitis can be managed in a fashion that it will not prevent him from playing.
“It’s definitely good to come to spring training feeling good,” said Youkilis. “There are going to be times where you’re going to be sore. You can’t go through a whole baseball season and be 100 percent for the whole thing. It’s just trying to maintain and get your body in the best shape. With the new facility here and some new stuff we’ve got in the training room in Boston, it’s going to allow us to be physically prepared every day.
“[The bursitis is] just inflammation-type stuff. It will go away, and that’s what’s happened is it’s gone away. It’s just doing flexibility and loosening up. … So that’s the good thing. It’s not an injury, it’s little things to change and alter to make myself be able to move better over the six-month period.”
How much Youkilis plays in the coming season, and the level at which he performs, likely will dictate the duration of his stay in Boston going forward. The corner infielder is in the last guaranteed year of a four-year, $41.125 million deal he signed with the Red Sox before the 2009 season. The team holds a $13 million option for his services for the 2013 campaign.
That deal would represent a reasonable salary if Youkilis is once again healthy and returns to his place as one of the most productive hitters in the American League for last year. However, the option might give the Sox pause if Youkilis is once again unable to stay on the field (after suffering season-ending injuries that had him averaging 111 games in 2010-11) or suffers a performance decline.
Yet Youkilis says that his contract status for next season will not be on his mind as he gets ready for this year, his ninth as a member of the Red Sox. He does want to remain in the only organization for whom he’s ever played for as long as he can, but Youkilis said that he will not dwell on his contract or earnings potential.
“I already hit the jackpot in monetary terms and the way I look at life,” Youkilis said. “Money is not why I play this game. I play this game because I love the game and I love going out there and competing. That’s why I love baseball. A lot of friends and family are like, ‘You need this big deal — three years, so and so.’ I can’t worry about that. once you start worrying about money and contracts and all that, that’s when you have outside things in your head. You’re getting up and facing Felix Hernandez sliders and stuff like that. It’s going to be a tough day anyway. you can’t be worrying about a contract and all that little stuff. For me, it’s not about a contract year. If I stay healthy and play hard, do all the little things to help the team, I know I can play here.”
Youkilis says that he will need to manage the bursitis in his hip going forward, went on to elaborate that his best means of assuring his long-term future in Boston is fairly straightforward.
“That’s something I can’t worry about. That’s something for them to worry about. My whole job is to help us win ballgames,” said Youkilis, who hit .258 with a .373 OBP, .459 slugging mark, .833 OPS, 17 homers and 80 RBI in 120 games last year. “I know if I’m out there starting everyday and we win a World Series, there’s a good chance I might come back. That’s my whole goal. I know if we win and we win a World Series, it’s going to be hard for them not to bring me back. I want to make it as hard on them as possible to not bring me back.”
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