Are Sox interested in new free agent Kevin Youkilis?

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Are Sox interested in new free agent Kevin Youkilis?

The Red Sox are in the market for a first baseman, and there's a familiar name out there.

Kevin Youkilis is a free agent after the White Sox declined the 13 million option for 2013 on his contract. Chicago reportedly has interest in bringing him back at a lower price, but Youkilis -- who played third for the White Sox -- is probably the best third baseman on the market and there figures to be interest in his services.

And the Red Sox?

Well, with Will Middlebrooks ready to take over as the team's everyday third baseman -- remember, that's what prompted Youkilis' trade (well, that and his toxic relationship with Bobby Valentine) in the first place -- the Sox would most likely want Youk to go back to first base were they to bring him back. But will they? And should they?

Youkilis turns 34 next March and his precipitous offensive decline continued -- in fact, accelerated -- in 2012. His OPS-plus dropped to a substandard 99 (it was 157 just two years ago) after a season in which he hit .235 with 19 homers and 60 RBI in 122 games. And it was an honest .235: After hitting .233 in 42 games in Boston, he hit .236 in 80 games in Chicago.

His on-base percentage, meanwhile, dipped to .336 (after being at .377 in 2011 and .411 in 2010), and his slugging percentage fell to .409 (after being .459 in '11, and over .500 for the three seasons before that).

There's a trend here, and it's pointing downward.

Will the Sox bite? The answer to that question may also be the answer as to how serious they are about rebuilding.

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

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Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious.