May 11, 2012, 09:42AM

Should Youk Stay or Should He Go?

Will Middlebrooks is jeopardizing Kevin Youkilis’ spot on Boston’s roster.

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The Red Sox are in a predicament. Well, they’re in many predicaments (including the development of an escape strategy from the cellar of the AL East), but I’m going to focus on one that many would dub “a good problem to have.” The “problem” in question is the awkward third base situation: what can you do with Will Middlebrooks after Kevin Youkilis comes back from the DL? Some analysts, and fans especially, are debating over the specific phraseology, and whether Youkilis, the proven veteran, is the lame duck in this scenario.

Let’s review the facts: Youkilis has been an invaluable member of the team since 2006, has taken a walk in over 13 percent percent of his at-bats for the last three years, and is only signed through 2012, with a $13 million club option for 2103. He’s also become fairly injury prone, has started off this season poorly, and is allegedly unpopular in the clubhouse. Middlebrooks is young, cost-controlled, and so far, effective. After tearing up AAA with a .333 AVG and nine home runs, the rookie right-hander has started out hot in Boston. He’s still a prospect, though, and by nature, they’re volatile. Middlebrooks has also needed adjustment periods after promotions, which foreshadows an oncoming slump.

With a temporary transition to the outfield not happening, as noted by Bosox GM Ben Cherington, sending the youngster back to AAA once Youkilis returns is the safest option. If the veteran struggles, either on the field or off, Middlebrooks can simply be recalled. But what if Cherington doesn’t want to demote Middlebrooks? What if the 23-year-old continues to hit like a stud? Even if he doesn’t, and goes cold for a while, Cherington may still want his number one prospect to gain major league experience. What then?

Trading Youkilis is hardly out of the question, assuming there’s a market for him. Theoretically, there should be: an effective third-baseman is hard to come by. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Reds, and Indians (for first base. Casey Kotchman sucks and Matt LaPorta, a notorious AAA masher, hasn’t been able to figure out MLB pitching) could all be interested. The dilemma is how other teams view Youkilis. He’s either a “slightly injury-prone All-Star who landed on the DL in the midst of a slump,” a “disgruntled, professional complainer who gets paid to sit on the DL,” or something in between.

If Cherington puts him on the trading block, he should expect a large return, and settle for nothing. Offering to chip in part of the third-baseman’s salary would get more clubs interested, and would elicit a bigger return. Trading the man is only productive for the Sox if they receive an adequate package of prospects. When healthy, Youkilis is easily one of the most proficient hitters on the team. He can hit for a high average, get on base at an astounding clip, and slug over 25 home runs.

As of late, Youkilis hasn’t looked like the same hitter that has led the team to many playoff berths and seen two World Championships. Trading him is fine, he’s obviously not part of the team’s future beyond 2013, but unless Cherington gets the right package it’s simply not worth it. Dealing the veteran for the sake of dealing him is counterproductive.


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