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Friday played host to a slew of rumors surrounding the Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. At the start of the day, the report was the Red Sox were telling teams they would trade Youkilis this season. Later that day, Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington called the reports “inaccurate.”
Trade rumors are a common commodity in baseball, especially in a market as large as Boston. In this particular case, trading Youkilis would not be beneficial to this team.
The recent production of Will Middlebrooks has served as a catalyst for the Youkilis trade talks. Middlebrooks is a 23-year-old rookie who is the heir apparent to Youkilis at third base. The youngster has impressed in his short time with the big club. Currently, he is hitting .313 with six homeruns and 21 runs batted in.
His fielding has been relatively good as he has committed 4 errors with 42 assists and 9 put outs. One aspect of his defense that a statsheet won’t tell you is his sound mechanics defensively. Numerous times Middlebrooks has fielded the ball on the run and has taken his time to set his feet before he fires across the diamond. His arm is strong and the future is very bright for this young ballplayer.
However, as impressive as he has been there is always that nagging feeling with any rookie that at some point they could very well hit a wall. The major league season is a long one, much longer than that of minor league teams. Also, if the Red Sox find themselves in the playoff hunt, the month of September will be a grind for every member of the team. Depth is a commodity that is overlooked in this sport, and having Middlebrooks on the bench to give Youkilis or Gonzalez a day off is much more beneficial to the Red Sox than trading Youkilis would be.
Any team that would trade for Youkilis will want the Red Sox to pay the majority, if not all of his remaining $12 million he is owed this season. Teams that have inquired about Youkilis don’t seem thrilled about paying that money, nor do they seem thrilled about parting with a top prospect.
What this is saying is that other teams don’t seem to value Youkilis as much as they should. He is a Gold Glove defender at either corner of the infield. He has shown that he can play corner outfield positions as well, even though it is not his preference. He has struggled with injuries these past years, but that stands out as another reason why they shouldn’t trade him. A big question would be “what if Middlebrooks gets hurt?” Not only what if he gets hurt, but what if that injury happens in September when the Red Sox are making a push for the playoffs? If they keep Youkilis the security will remain, and they will be able to work Middlebrooks in sparingly. The rotation of Youkilis, Gonzalez, and Middlebrooks in and out of the lineup will help these guys stay healthy as the year goes on.
Unless a team sends an offer to Cherington and the Red Sox that would strengthen the bullpen, or deliver a prospect with high upside, Youkilis needs to remain on the team. In a worst case scenario, the Red Sox could exercise their option on Youkilis at the end of the year, which would pay him $13 million. That amount is only one million more than he is currently making this season. The small increase in pay would allow the Red Sox to keep him this year, allowing Middlebrooks to progress without any added pressure, and the Red Sox would be able to work a trade next year. With this team’s recent history of injuries, it would be foolish to go all-in on Middlebrooks just because he has had a good month in the big leagues.
I have no doubts that Middlebrooks is the future third baseman of the Red Sox, and I have no doubts that he will excel offensively and defensively. But, I don’t see a reason to rush that along. Trading Youkilis would be more costly than beneficial as the season goes along.