Kevin Youkilis, Will Middlebrooks, And Making Room

Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks (64) hits a grand slam against the Baltimore Orioles during the fifth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

I'm obsessed with context. Specifically, time-sensitive context and how we take what we know now for granted. If I could magically invent one thing, it would be a cross between a time machine and a fax. That would allow me to time-fax things like this back to myself three years ago.

Ryan Vogelsong picks up win against Dodgers -(STOP)- Lowers ERA to 2.94 -(STOP)- Is not working in commercial real estate -(STOP)-

Bam. Mind blown. And present me would laugh and laugh and laugh, while past me would curl up into a ball, suck his thumb, and wonder how Ryan Vogelsong got a) good, and b) back on the Giants. It seems cruel, but screw that guy, right?

And here's another one for the time-fax. I think I'd only send this one back to last July:

Why Youkilis has to go

That's the headline of an ESPN Boston article from Wednesday. It's a reasonable column, with the headline the most incendiary part. But think about what that headline would look like right before last trading deadline. What happened to Youk? What happened to the Red Sox? Why would they want to trade Youk? What in the holy hell happened to the Red Sox?

But it makes sense in our 2012 context. Almost.

In conversations with four veteran major league talent evaluators Tuesday, all were high on Middlebrooks ("I think he can be a helluva player," said one) and all said they believed there would be a strong market for Youkilis. "With that extra wild-card,"' one said, "there will be a lot more places to move him." Only one thought that the Sox should send Middlebrooks back to the minors, at least long enough for Youkilis to prove to potential trading partners that he is healthy.

That would be Will Middlebrooks, who sounds like he should be a sidearmed reliever for the Padres, but who is actually an up-and-coming third-base prospect for the Red Sox. Except third is occupied by Youkilis. Can't move Youkilis to first because Adrian Gonzalez is there. And the outfield?

This is a problem because Will Middlebrooks is going goofy since being called up, going 9-for-22 with three homers and four doubles, good for a .409/.435/1.000 line. He was hitting .333/.380/.677 in Triple-A, too, so it's not like this came completely out of nowhere. And now there's talk about trading Youkilis for a bevy of prospects because of Middlebrooks' emergence.

This makes a little sense, but only through the prism of the Greater Prospect Uncertainty Theorem, which is best explained through this graph.


Youkilis is something of a known quantity. A really-productive-when-healthy player, but not a Hall of Famer or anything.

But Middlebrooks, why, he could be anything! He could hit 30 homers this year! His OPS is 1.435 right now, which is .013 ahead of the all-time record, so if he could just maintain this pace, he'd have one of the greatest seasons ever. He hasn't not done it before, so there's no proof that he can't do it. Prospects can do anything!

Yep. Except here are numbers that mean more than that 1.435 in 22 at-bats:

Year Age Lev PA BB SO
2011 22 AA-AAA-A- 472 26 114
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 5/9/2012.


That's Middlebrooks last year, mostly in the Eastern League. The EL is a pitchers' league, so his overall numbers were very impressive for his age. But those strikeout/walk numbers hint at a player who will need to make a significant adjustment at the major-league level. That isn't to say his career is going to Kevin Maas -- his long-term future is still bright. But hold on there, anyone thinking he can approximate even 75 percent of Youkilis' production.

If you're arguing that the Red Sox are a sinking ship destined to miss the playoffs, and you figure that a viable strategy would be to play the young guys while trading for more young guys, well, that's different. It's premature and slightly insane, but it's a different argument.

If you're still thinking the Red Sox are built to win now, though, you have to go with Youkilis. Middlebrooks could be anything, boy oh boy oh boy, just like any prospect can. But Youkilis is much, much more likely to excel right now. If you think that the wins and losses of the 2012 Red Sox are still something worth paying attention to for reasons other than draft positioning, this isn't even a legitimate question.

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