Kevin Youkilis, Yankees finalize $12 million deal

After spending 8 1/2 years in Boston and delivering a pair of

World Series titles to the Fenway Park faithful, Kevin Youkilis was

surprised when the New York Yankees expressed interest in fitting

him for pinstripes.

”At first, it was kind of like, `Wow!”’ he said Friday after

finalizing a $12 million, one-year contract with New York.

”There’s a lot of great Red Sox fans that just wanted the best for

me going forward and I know there’s going to be some that don’t

like the decision, and you can’t worry about that.”

A three-time All-Star, Youkilis becomes the Yankees’ starting

third baseman for at least the first half of next season while Alex

Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery. A-Rod’s operation is scheduled

for next month.

”Obviously, he certainly cushions the blow of losing Alex,”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. ”That’s a difficult

loss. When you have a healthy Alex Rodriguez, you have really one

of the game’s more productive players. But I couldn’t think of

anybody better to replace him in the short-term with as Kevin

Youkilis.”

While announcing the deal for Youkilis, the Yankees closed in on

a $13 million, two-year contract with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki,

according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The sides

still had to finalize language and the deal will be subject to a

physical, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity

because the agreement was not complete. Suzuki will get $6.5

million a year.

Youkilis, traded from the Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox in

June, joined Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon

as Boston players who made the switch to the Bronx in the heated

rivalry. He’ll get an early look at his old club: The Red Sox are

set to open at Yankee Stadium on April 1.

”I reached out to Johnny. He just said you’re going to love the

experience. It’s a great place to play,” Youkilis said.

But Damon also has felt the wrath of Red Sox fans.

”He’s had a hard time in Boston. I saw him the other day. It’s

kind of upsetting to him, the fact that they’ve been pretty rough

on him,” Youkilis said.

He also plans to speak with Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain.

The pair feuded in the past over tight fastballs.

”It’s not a big deal to me,” Youkilis said. ”If it was that

big of a deal, I wouldn’t be signing with the Yankees.”

Chamberlain left Youkilis a voicemail this week, but they

haven’t spoken.

”I haven’t been able to return so many calls,” Youkilis said.

”But I’ll reach out to him and talk to him.”

If and when Rodriguez returns, Youkilis figures to see time at

first base backing up Mark Teixeira. He also could get some games

at designated hitter.

”And they told me I’m going to play shortstop, too,” Youkilis

said before quickly adding he had no intention of taking time away

from Yankees captain Derek Jeter: ”I’m just kidding. They’re

definitely not going to put me at short. If they put me at short,

we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

Rodriguez, who turns 38 in July, will have surgery in

mid-January, and the Yankees said the anticipated recovery time is

six months.

”I’m not going to guarantee anything about when he’s coming

back or how he’ll come back. So we’ll just have to wait and see,”

Cashman said. ”We hope we can bring him back into the fold and

have the high-caliber player that we hoped to have prior to these

injuries. But our season and our team is going on regardless, and

therefore that’s why this was such an important acquisition.”

Rodriguez is owed $114 million by the Yankees as part of his

record $275 million, 10-year contract.

”I’m not in a position here to guarantee anything or frame what

the realistic expectations are as we move forward over the next

five years with what we’re going to get from him,” Cashman said.

”I just think we have to play it out and see.”

To make room for Youkilis on the 40-man roster, the Yankees

designated left-hander Josh Spence for assignment.