Youkilis-to-Cincinnati speculation has been on a slow boil ever since he said the following in an ESPN Boston article last August:
"If it wasn't Boston, I would want to play in Cincinnati just to say that I did it," Youkilis said. "I grew up rooting for them. I used to be bitter towards the Reds because they didn't draft me, but that bitterness is gone. It would be fun and it would be for my family."
It's probably less of a boil than the thing that happens when you turn the burner on too low and the flame goes out and you're just leaking gas into the kitchen.
Since then, Youkilis has scuffled in Boston and hit the DL with an ailing back. Scott Rolen has returned from surgery and continued an apparent decline that could traced back as far as late 2010.
So we have two third basemen on the wrong side of 30, with lingering injuries, who are currently responsible for the following cringe-worthy 2012 stat-lines:
Youkilis: .219/.292/.344 (72 PAs)
Rolen: .182/.247/ .318 (97 PAs)
While the trade talk and Wally Pipp innuendos have ramped up on New England talk radio with the blazing start of Youkilis' replacement - Will Middlebrooks - Todd Frazier's production is looking every bit as gaudy. To whit:
Middlebrooks: .346/.370/.846 (27 PAs)
Frazier: .364/.440/.773 (25 PAs)
There's a lot that of circumstantial evidence that points to the Reds being an interested party in Youk, either before the trade deadline or during the offseason (if his option is declined). The Red Sox look headed for a garage sale this season and seem to have a ready replacement. The Reds have a third baseman slouching toward retirement and a soft spot for homecomings (most recent exhibit: Andrew Brackman). Walt Jocketty acquired Scott Rolen at Age 34, while Youkilis turned 33 this March. Youkilis, like Rolen, has that grisled veteran panache.
It might all add up to the Reds being the most likely suitor for Youkilis, even if the chances of him ending up back home are still well under 50%. That doesn't mean, though, that Youkilis makes sense here. Over the last calendar year, he's put up a .253/.351/.435 line. That would be a significant step up from the production that's come out of 3B since 2011, but it's a sizable drop from where Youkilis has been every season since his debut in the majors.
With a lower back which requires a "walking program" as an early stage of rehab, it has the trappings of a persistent injury that won't be easier to fend off with age. The last thing the Reds want to do is swap out one declining, chronically injured third baseman with another - especially one who does not have anything close to the defensive skills Scott Rolen has to fall back on.
That's all before getting to the question of whether the Reds have a replacement in their very own clubhouse to consider. Todd Frazier is going to stop hitting like Ye Olde Kevin Youkilis, but he's likely to be more productive than Youk (who may not even return until June or later) from here until the trade deadline.
It's possible Frazier winds up in that gray middle space as a very good utility player, but a middling starter. If the org thinks that's his destiny, they may kick the tires on Youkilis in the offseason. With the extensions handed out this spring, they'll probably look for a discount: a hometown and buy-low combo. Paradoxically, a disappointing rest-of-the-season might make Youkilis more appalling to the Reds financially.
With boring, but improving numbers, Youkilis could hit a sweet spot of affordability that would make him a good signing. He'd make a great story and would give fans a chance once again to root for a regular player raised in the Queen City. It fits the front office M.O. too, but from a May 2011-eye's view, there are just too many red flags.