Even though he's already covered his cost, Kevin Youkilis continues to pay dividends.
After his massive three-run homer over the Green Monster against his former team on Tuesday night, he's back on the RBI-a-game pace. He's hitting .319/.415/.551 with four homers and 18 RBI, and his .965 OPS is more than double than what the White Sox had gotten from all the third basemen Robin Ventura deployed prior to the trade (.467).
The White Sox are 12-6 since Youkilis arrived, which is good enough to extend their lead by three games. Meanwhile, the players the Sox traded away figure to make no measurable impact. The Red Sox already designated Brent Lillibridge for assignment after he went 2-for-16 with five strikeouts, and Zach Stewart is doing Zach Stewart things in Pawtucket, giving up hits and not missing bats.
(Remember back in the spring when Lillibridge stressed the importance of locking in a good season in order to hit his arbitration years with momentum? A reporter would have to have quite a cruel streak to follow up with that question right now.)
When you assess all the factors of the trade -- how well Youkilis has played, the upgrade he represents, the imbalance of the trade, and the team's overall performance -- it's on pace to be the greatest midseason White Sox trade of all time. But there's still a long way to go, and one other deal presents some stiff competition.
That's not to say the Sox haven't pulled off their share of successful midseason deals. They come in all shapes and sizes.
For instance, you have the late-season trades that end up creating indelible snapshots for playoff teams -- Geoff Blum in 2005, or Ted Kluszewski in 1959, for instance. Ken Griffey Jr. in 2008 also qualifies, although he had his moment in Game 163.
There are trades that pay off a year later. Freddy Garcia did what he was supposed to do when the Sox traded for him in 2004, but the plan surrounding him didn't come together until the next year, and Garcia was the clincher. Jose Contreras, who arrived a month after Garcia, came with lower expectations and a lesser cost, and he needed a year to make the leap.
If you want to leave this century, take a look at the trade that brought Bob Shaw to the White Sox in 1958. He went 4-2 with a 4.64 ERA with the Sox over the last two months that year, but 18-6 with 2.69 ERA for the Go-Go Sox.
Then you have the veteran-for-prospect trades, which allows Jon Garland, Wilson Alvarez and Sammy Sosa to enter the conversation (how about Chet Lemon in 1975?). But those can just as easily backfire, as five-sixths of the White Flag trade can tell you, so it's hard to put them in the same adrenaline-pumping category.
And in between are winning moves for teams that fell short -- the first Carl Everett deal, Moose Skowron in 1964, Earl Torgeson in 1957 or Virgil Trucks in 1953. They're trades you do again and again and again, but there are no October ties.
So if we're counting a postseason appearance as a necessity in the "greatest midseason addition ever" conversation -- and that seems reasonable here, given that Youkilis is still a rental, and this year is the whole point -- there's only one other transaction that can go toe-to-toe with what he is on pace to accomplish.
That one player is Charles Johnson in 2000.
Johnson came over in Ron Schueler's last great move. With his contract about to expire (and Scott Boras representing him), the White Sox were able to pry him and Harold Baines from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Brook Fordyce and three prospects who never ended up reaching the majors (Jason Lakman, Juan Figueroa and Miguel Felix).
The Sox were already in pretty good position. At the time they made the trade, the Sox were 63-41 and leading the AL Central by 9 1/2 games.
Their situation at catcher wasn't that bad, either. Sure, it was a weak spot in a juggernaut offense, but Fordyce and Mark Johnson formed an effective enough platoon (.245/.313/.393), especially in their last month together. Fordyce in particular had overcome a slow start to catch fire in July, with 14 hits in his last 28 at-bats with the Sox.
But Charles Johnson was an obvious upgrade. He was in the midst of a career year, hitting .294/.365/.570 with 21 homers in 84 games for Baltimore. Moreover, he had postseason experience as the starting catcher for the World Series-winning Florida Marlins in 1997, batting .357 over the seven-game series. Throw in Baines, who gave the Sox left-handed depth and a backup for Paul Konerko (who had a hand injury), and the deal was a no-brainer.
Somehow, Johnson worked out even better than expected. In his first game with the Sox, he hit a game-winning homer off ace Texas reliever John Wetteland, giving the White Sox a 4-3 victory in Arlington. On top of that, he guided James Baldwin to his first homerless start in 11 outings.
That's basically how it went for Johnson during his two months with the Sox. Over 44 games, Johnson hit .326/.411/.607 with 10 homers and 36 RBI. And to show you just how spoiled the White Sox were that season, Johnson delivered that production FROM THE NINTH SPOT.
Besides the bat, he was seen as a big target and a stabilizing presence for a pitching staff that was gradually decimated by injuries, and when the postseason rolled around, he was one of the few White Sox to show up. He went 3-for-9 with a walk and a HBP, although since he hit ninth in the first two games, the effect of his production was muted. He can't be blamed for Seattle's series-altering baserunning during the 10th inning of Game 1, either, because Jerry Manuel pinch-ran for him in the eighth.
Basically, Johnson gave the Sox everything they could have hoped for and then some. If you want to see that number in WAR, he was worth 2.2 WAR over his 44 games with the Sox -- which extrapolates to about 6.4 over a full catching season. The Sox let him sign with the Marlins after the season, and they didn't really miss out for the money. The only way it could have been a better short-term marriage is if the Sox advanced further than a first-round sweep, but Johnson did all he could.
If Johnson is the gold standard for over-the-top White Sox moves, Youkilis has a chance to represent the diamond, platinum or uranium level. There's a whole lot of road ahead, and it could be bumpy -- Youkilis has a history of nagging injuries, and the 25-man roster is in a similarly fragile state. It's also going to be hard to top Johnson's output, especially when adjusting for position.
But he can make up for it in the other areas. When considering the situation Youkilis inherited at third, the narrow lead, the number of injuries on the roster (similar to 2000!), and the fact that they actually need him to hit higher than NINTH, Youkilis already has the foundation in place to make a case for the greatest (human) patch in the history of the White Sox.
And if you're uncomfortable with thinking that far ahead, think of it this way -- Youkilis is inviting this conversation, and it's only been three weeks.