After all of the drama to start the season, after all of the injuries, after losing a 17-inning game to Chris Davis, the Boston Red Sox are just three games back. They're a series sweep away from moving into first place. It isn't time to rebuild, to play the kids. Even though they're one injury away from starting LaSchelle Tarver and Spike Owen, the Red Sox are looking to win in the short-term.
Red Sox are telling teams they definitely intend to trade Youkilis.— DKnobler (@DKnobler) June 1, 2012
There are two ways to look at this:
1. The Red Sox think they'll be better with Middlebrooks playing every day
This can't be it. It's one thing for a team's fans to get overly excited about a player's first 100 at-bats. But teams should know better. Youkilis has over 3,000 at-bats in which he's performed like the best-case scenario for Middlebrooks. If Middlebrooks has a season as good as Youkilis's 2011 -- a down year -- that would still be considered a developmental success story.
Over the first 99 plate appearances of his career, Middlebrooks has hit .316/.343/.579, which is outstanding. But he also has four walks and 29 strikeouts in those plate appearances. Last year at this time, he was doing the same thing in AA. Maybe he's the rare player who can get away with this special kind of hacking, like Alfonso Soriano in his prime. But it's much, much likelier that he'll run into a bit of a wall, and the league will force him to make adjustments.
Which is fine. That's what prospects have to do, and Middlebrooks is still an excellent prospect. But the odds are still much, much greater that Youkilis helps the Red Sox more than Middlebrooks in 2012. The rest-of-season projections from ZiPS:
The Red Sox know this, or they at least have a pretty good idea of the logic behind those projections, which means they're probably looking at the second rationale ...
2. The Red Sox think that Middlebrooks and whatever pitching Youkilis can bring back, plus the money saved, will help them build a better team for the rest of 2012
This makes more sense. When we hear or read "veteran could be traded", our brains are wired to think prospects. Guys in A-ball with eleventy tools and a projectable frame. But what if the Red Sox were looking for major-league-ready players, guys who could step into their lineup, rotation, or bullpen right away?
If the White Sox are interested, maybe talks start with a bigger deal with Gavin Floyd involved instead of someone from the minors. If the Phillies are interested, maybe Joe Blanton is included to offset the money, and the deal can ramp up from there. I know that Red Sox, White Sox, and Phillies fans are all spitting at the screen right now because of those suggestions. They're just names pulled out of my nether regions -- I'm terrible at assessing trade value.
But the idea is sound. Middlebrooks + new starter + bullpen guy might make the Red Sox better than they are with Youkilis stealing at-bats from Middlebrooks. It would be a risk, and the right package would have to come along, but that idea makes sense.
Youkilis for prospects? Not with the win-now cycle the Red Sox are in. Not unless the Red Sox are actually expecting Middlebrooks to continue hitting this well while having the plate discipline of Jeff Francoeur wearing a falconry hood. But that doesn't mean trading Youkilis is nonsensical. There just might be a fit out there for the Red Sox.