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Tuesday, April 16

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White Sox Mon Sep 10 2012

Sox Upgrade at 3B, Still Struggling at 2B

When Kevin Youkilis was exiled from Boston in late June and was sent to Chicago, everyone associated with the White Sox (the players, front office and fans) were, at best, ecstatic, and at worse, optimistic. Through almost three months, Youk has not disappointed.

The Sox received a boost from Youkilis's arrival, rolling off a 9-3 record right after the deal. The team has been in first place just about every day since the trade, too. Youkilis too has been rejuvenated in Chicago, with a .362 OBP and a .812 OPS with 12 home runs in 59 games for the team. Plus, he works the count well and many of his homers have come in big spots for the Sox. Even considering his spotty defense, he's been good, and he already holds some sway in the clubhouse.

But as the Sox fixed their problems at third base, issues have been rising at second base. Gordon Beckham has been lousy since the trade. From May 7 to June 24, Beckham was plugged into the #2 spot in the lineup every day for 43 games, and he finally found a groove in the big leagues, shaking off some of the stink of his previous two seasons. Beckham became a minor threat in the order, and he hit a not-too-shabby .264 with seven home runs and 25 RBI. Even if it wasn't all-star level production, it still appeared that Beckham had something to build on.

Then Youkilis arrived. Since June 25, he hasn't been that good - a .214 average, .267 OBP, .602 OPS, four home runs, 21 RBIs and 14 walks to 39 strikeouts in 61 games. He went from being a sneaky hitter who could take advantage of a pitcher who was looking ahead at the heart of the order, to an afterthought. Though Beckham dropped from second in the order to ninth, there's no major reason for his drop in play. Maybe the swoon was simply inevitable, bound to happen no matter the circumstances.

Regardless, the cause for concern rises some because Beckham's offensive stats have declined after each of his four seasons (including 2009, where he played a little over 100 games). Beckham has the fourth-lowest WAR (which factors in defense and batting) among regular MLB second basemen this year, and was also close to the bottom last yearand the year before.

Even Beckham's saving grace, his defense, is slightly overrated - though he has a nice arm, quick reactions on a short hop, and can make the SportsCenter Top 10 play from time to time, advanced metrics show that Beckham has been just average (maybe even bad) among second basemen in the American League over the past three years. Even this season, he has a negative defensive WAR rating.

So, what to do? Despite all this, Beckham is a week shy of his 26th birthday, and he the eighth overall pick in 2008. The Sox still have him under control until 2016. Though it would be hard to cut the cord with someone who has been such an investment, and someone who's such a fan favorite ... Beckham probably won't live up to his potential in Chicago.

The White Sox should move Beckham this offseason, because they are essentially stuck in the middle with him. He is definitely a starter for them (especially when the current back ups are the O-Dog and Jose Lopez), but he has been far from exceptional with the bat and the glove. The Sox could bring him back in 2013 and beyond because he's young, because he's shown some hot streaks, but the organization will probably be stuck in the same predicament with Beckham they're in now. He'll be disappointing, and the Sox squandered the chance to improve at second base. Only this time, Beckham's value will drop - he'll be a year older, and he'll have another lackluster season under his belt. Unless Beckham blossoms late like Jose Bautista or Alejandro De Aza did, but how likely is that?

Beckham seems like a guy that will benefit from a change of scenery, a player who can succeed with lowered expectations on a different team, like San Diego or Colorado. I would bet that the Sox would get fair value for him, too: If I'm a National League team, or a squad that has a hole at second base, I would be intrigued by Beckham's upside. I wouldn't give up the farm for him, but he'd be a worthy gamble. I can see him hitting .270 with 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and a .750 OPS in Arizona or something next year (roughly, his hot 2012 stretch prorated for an entire year). As for the Sox, they can plug prospect Tyler Saladino in at second base if Beckham departs.

Beckham has shown enough flashes of good play that he deserves a fresh start somewhere else if his Sox career doesn't flourish soon. I just find it ironic that Kevin Youkilis's new beginning in Chicago can potentially lead to Gordon Beckham's own new beginning after he leaves Chicago.

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