Earlier this offseason we discussed a few options the Indians had in this year's free agent market and we sit today with just one of those options signed by another team (Melky Cabrera to the Blue Jays) and none of the Indians major holes filled. Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes (acquired in the Esmil Rogers trade) look to take Lou Marson and Brent Lillibridge's places on the roster, but these are only side problems, ignoring the gaping hole that is the middle of the lineup.
There is one player out there who could fill either one of two of the holes. Kevin Youkilis is a free agent for the first time after being traded to the White Sox during the 2012 season. At first it looked like the White Sox may resign Youkilis, but the fact that they haven't yet makes it seem like he is waiting for more options.
Youkilis would be a perfect fit at first base. Defensively, he would would not be a let down after the fantastic year that Casey Kotchman had with his glove as he is easily within the top three defensive first baseman in baseball today (along with Kotchman and Mark Teixeira). The big difference is his bat, which he has been using to destroy the Indians since his debut for the Red Sox in 2004. His .288 average against the Tribe is his 6th highest against any team he has faced for more than 20 times. Even worse for the Indians were the type of hits he got with 22 of 47 going for extra bases along with 28 RBI.
The Greek God of Walks would fit well with this Indians team that has spent the last few seasons training players to be patient at the plate and work counts. Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana have been the most effective thus far, but the more patient hitters that are in the line up, the sooner the starter will hit his pitch count and be removed from the game regardless of how well he is actually pitching.
Youkilis is aging and his power numbers are waning, but his eyes are as good as ever. While he is no longer a real threat to hit more than 20 home runs in a season, this still would place him above almost every current Indians hitter. While he is going to be 34 before next season starts, that just makes the Indians job even a better fit for him as he can transition into the designated hitter role, splitting time at first, possibly with Russ Canzler.
One reason why Youkilis may consider for Cleveland when he wouldn't have in the past is the recent addition of manager Terry Francona. Francona was his rookie manager back in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in almost a century and when the team was cohesive and playing well together. When Francona left the team after 2011, Youkilis often publicly disagreed with new manager Bobby Valentine, ultimately leading to his trade. He may be comforted by a friendly presence in the dugout with Francona already with the team.
Finally, the Indians should be able to afford Youkilis. In an offseason where a 33 year old left handed relief pitcher can get a contract for $18M (over three years), the Indians will need to look for deals wherever they can. Youkilis has never made more than $13M a year in his career so he should fit easily in the Indians budget as he enters the twilight of his career. The Indians should be able to offer him a contract worth about $40M over four years to fill the space that Travis Hafner left open when the Indians declined his option. The Tribe can't afford to go too crazy with him as he only has a limited number of useful years left, but if done correctly, Kevin Youkilis could be a solid base to build the rest of the lineup around for years to come.