Major moves made by Chicago's MLB teams were reported within 24 hours of each other ... and both made perfect sense. When's the last time that happened?
Of course, there wasn't a whole lot of deep thought needed with the Cubs' move. Top prospect Anthony Rizzo has nothing left to prove at Triple-A (you could argue Rizzo had nothing left to prove there on April 2). They're past the point where calling him up could move up his arbitration eligibility and free agency a year. This is when Cubs brass had probably planned to call him up all along.
What the White Sox did was more surprising, though they'd been linked to Kevin Youkilis for weeks. Still, trading for that big a name on June 24 — and beating out a list of several teams reportedly interested — is a gutsy, outside-the-box move. In other words, it's business as usual for Kenny Williams.
I say the trade — which sent utilityman Brent Lillibridge and underwhelming young pitcher Zach Stewart to Boston — makes sense because the Sox had to do something. Seventy-two games into the season, their third basemen had combined on a .168 batting average, a .243 OBP and one home run. Put it this way: Cubs third sacker Ian Stewart, who's batting .201/.292/.335, has been the best player at the position in town. Easily.
It seems certain that Youkilis will earn that title. The question is by how large a margin. Some Sox fans, remembering the Youkilis who had a .312/.390/.569 season with Boston in 2008, think it's a lock that Youkilis will produce at a high level. I'm not so sure. He's a 33-year-old with back problems who wasn't a great defensive third baseman at his peak. He's hitting .233/.315/.377 this season and has a .163 batting average since June 2.
Can Youkilis right himself with the regular playing time he wasn't getting in Boston? I'm not saying he can't and won't, but I'm certainly not going to expect he will with this many red flags. I don't think Williams, Robin Ventura or even Youkilis himself know the answer.
The reason it's a good trade is that Youkilis doesn't have to perform at that high a level to be an upgrade. As tough as his 2012 has been, he'd still be an upgrade over what Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson have done.
Over the course of the three-plus months that remain in the season, league-average production might be worth an extra win over what the Sox had been getting from their third baseman. If Youkilis can somehow regain his form of a few years ago, it could make a difference of two or even three wins for the Sox from now until September. That's huge, particularly in the context of what figures to be a close divisional race.
It doesn't matter if Rizzo makes the Cubs win any more games than they otherwise would have over the course of this lost season. What matters is that his development continues, and that he develops some confidence that he can hit big-league pitching. We know Rizzo can crush in the Pacific Coast League, but all we've seen him do against major leaguers is hit .141/.281/.242 in 153 forgettable plate appearances with the Padres in 2011.
I hope the ridiculous expectations and amount of attention Rizzo will face from Cubs fans won't in any way hamper his ability to figure the level out. There's little else to be excited about at Wrigley this season. Cubs fans predictably went nuts upon hearing Rizzo was on the way Monday afternoon. The news about blew up Twitter and prompted approximately 127,385 calls to Chicago's sports radio stations.
This all wasn't for some once-in-a-generation talent like Bryce Harper; Baseball Prospectus rated Rizzo the 75th-best prospect in baseball. He might be higher if the list was done now after hitting .342/.405/.696 at Iowa, but the point is, he seems bound to come up short of what many are expecting of him. Rizzo is a nice prospect, sure, who has a decent chance to be a productive MLB player. He is no savior; certainly not in 2012, anyway.
With all of that said, I am looking forward to seeing what Rizzo can do. I'm also looking forward to the promotion of a good prospect being a more common occurrence for the Cubs, and it not creating the circus that Rizzo's did.