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It’s a nice sendoff for Youkilis

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 25, 2012
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No, the Red Sox didn’t get much for Kevin Youkilis when they traded him Sunday, but they never expected to under the circumstances.

They got a righthanded reliever, Zach Stewart, whom they will turn into a starter at Pawtucket. He is just 25, and the Sox have scouted him since he was at Texas Tech. They got utilityman Brent Lillibridge, 28, a righthanded hitter who can play both the infield and outfield and will join Boston’s 25-man roster as early as Monday.

Along with Youkilis, they sent between $5 million and $6 million to the White Sox to help pay for the remainder of Youkilis’s $12 million salary. The White Sox will take care of the $1 million buyout on his option if they choose not to bring him back at $13 million next season.

With Youkilis gone, David Ortiz is the only player remaining from the 2004 Red Sox World Series team.

The initial reaction was this is a great deal for the White Sox, who finally have a major league third baseman in their lineup. The White Sox have overachieved this season in the American League Central and no doubt will battle the Red Sox for a wild-card spot.

In that respect, the deal is risky for the Red Sox, who also discussed Youkilis with the Dodgers, Braves, and Pirates, their preference being to send him to the National League. The Sox were also close to a deal with the Indians.

But the White Sox package was the one that excited general manager Ben Cherington because of Stewart’s potential.

“He’s got three solid pitches, throws strikes, he’s got a good minor league track record,’’ Cherington said. “He’s a guy who looks like a major league starter and needs more time in Triple A. He’ll be a big part of our pitching depth.’’

Stewart is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in 18 games this season. The promise always has been there. It’s just been unfulfilled.

The Sox believe Lillibridge can be the jack-of-all-trades player that made him one of Ozzie Guillen’s favorites in 2011.

The best thing that happened to Youkilis over the past few weeks occurred Sunday when he was able to say goodbye to the fans. In the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs, he tripled to right-center. Nick Punto came on to pinch run.

Just a few minutes before, Cherington had come down to the dugout runway to inform manager Bobby Valentine that something was getting close and this would be a good time to pull Youkilis for precautionary reasons.

The last thing they wanted was for Youkilis to injure himself, which he almost did when catching a low liner to third base in the third inning. The trainer came out to check on him, but Youkilis said he was OK.

So in the seventh, Valentine, who has been at odds with Youkilis this season, gave the player a proper send-off. Punto hugged his longtime friend as he took Youkilis’s place at third base. Teammates embraced Youkilis in the dugout and Valentine pointed to Youkilis to give the crowd a curtain call before he went off into the sunset.

Youkilis had a brief meeting with Cherington after the game and left the Sox clubhouse. The nameplate on his locker was gone.

“It was an emotional time for everyone, for Kevin and his teammates,’’ said Cherington. “He’s been here a long time, he’s been a great player and has played hard every inning he’s been out there.’’

Youkilis had commented the last few days about being left out of the conversation, but that wasn’t the case. Cherington said he had several talks with Youkilis about finding a resolution, one as late as two days ago when trade talks had begun to heat up.

“We were trying to find a resolution that worked for everyone,’’ Cherington said. “Kevin has been an everyday player his entire career, but with the way [Will] Middlebrooks has been playing, he needs to be in the lineup, that’s pretty clear.

“Bobby has done the best job he can juggling parts like he has the last few days. He’s had to move guys around. It was a challenge and we were trying to find a resolution. Will deserved to be in that lineup. Once we came to that conclusion if there was a trade that made sense for us, for Kevin and everyone involved, we would pursue that. It was a factor we weighed. It just so happened that factoring everything in, this was the best deal for us, so we did it.’’

But the trade of Youkilis was pushed by Middlebrooks’s development. Cherington acknowledged the Sox expected Middlebrooks to spend the season in Triple A. That plan changed when Middlebrooks showed continued improvement.

“He’s a confident guy. We just feel like he should be our third baseman right now,’’ said Cherington. “Like every big league player, there’ll be tough days and that’s how it will go.

“Sometimes opportunities open up and sometimes guys beat the clock up. This was a combination of both. It looked like in spring training, he just handled everything really well. Looked like he belonged. We were confident coming out of spring training that he could come up and help and that’s what happened and he forced his way into the lineup.’’

Dustin Pedroia was one of the first players to greet Youkilis in the dugout after he was replaced.

“It’s tough,’’ Pedroia said. “I played with the guy my whole career. I know how hard he’s played in every game. He’s put on the uniform, so it’s sad. He pushes me every day. I want to go out and play hard like he does. He’s always out there doing his best to help us win. I appreciate him so much.’’

Youkilis received a standing ovation in his first plate appearance and doffed his helmet.

“That meant a lot to him and to us,’’ Pedroia said. “The fans know how hard he played for the Red Sox. He did it first class.’’

Asked what he said to Youkilis, Pedroia said, “That l loved him, man. I’ll see him in July when we play them. He needs to go play and get rolling. He’s a great player and we’ve seen what he’s done here. It’s good for both sides.’’

Cody Ross, who homered twice for the Red Sox in their 9-4 win over the Braves, said, “You could see tears in his eyes. It was just a special time. I know what he means to this city. He won two World Series here and played his heart and soul out here every day.

“Everyone here understands it’s part of the game. It wasn’t out of the blue. But still, you never know until it happens. It’s tough.

“He’s a great teammate. He’ll be a longtime friend for me. I just gave him a hug when he came off and I’ll give him a call later. It was a great reaction from the crowd. I’m sure all kinds of thoughts were going through his mind. Probably just flashed right in front of him.’’

Punto appreciated being the one to replace Youkilis.

“We’ve been friends a long time, 10 years,’’ he said. “I know all of the blood, sweat, and tears he’s poured into this organization. It was kind of a goodbye. For the sake of baseball it’s always sad to see someone go like that.

“After he got that ovation we were sitting in dugout and he said to me, ‘Man, it was hard to hit after that.’ It felt good. He hadn’t felt too good about himself this season, but not too many Boston Red Sox players have won two championships. He was a heck of a player in this organization.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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