The Boston Red Sox aren't rebuilding. They aren't giving up on the 2012 season, and they aren't slinking away from the race. The Red Sox are just 4½ games out of the second wild-card spot. Why would they think that was an insurmountable deficit? They lost 4½ games in the standings every six hours last September. But the Red Sox are probably going to trade away Kevin Youkilis, one of their more popular players.
Chad Finn explains the rationale:
Not only is (Youkilis) getting worse rather than better -- did I mention that entering Tuesday night's game, he had a Crespoian .440 OPS in June? -- but he's keeping Will Middlebrooks, a future cornerstone whose arrival has been one of the few pleasant things about this team through the first 67 games, out of the lineup.
Will Middlebrooks is hot. Well, actually, he's ice cold right now, but he's hot in the sense that he's the new flavor in your ear. Everyone's talking about Will Middlebrooks. The expectations are high -- probably too high, at least for the short term -- and there's an argument to be made that Middlebrooks in the lineup will make the Red Sox better in the present as well as the future. I don't buy that argument, but it seems to be a popular one.
And because the Sox are supposedly so eager to deal Youkilis, his trade value is expected to be lower than you'd expect. Finn:
A minor-leaguer with a reasonable chance of sticking in the big leagues would be more than enough. Two decent minor-leaguers would be a windfall.
And from FanGraphs:
… unless he starts producing soon, the Red Sox are going to receive pennies on the dollar for him.
A quick rundown of the teams interested:
Los Angeles Dodgers
They make the most sense, as they might want him as a first baseman, which is his best position. The Dodgers have a 100 team OPS+ and they've scored a league-average 4.25 runs per game. But when you scroll through their lineups this year, you can see why they'd want a middle-of-the-order hitter who isn't James Loney or Juan Rivera.
Chicago White Sox
Brent Morel is hitting .177/.225/.195. That's good for a 15 OPS+. There are 54 different pitchers with a better line this year, including 17 starters with more than 20 at-bats. The solution the White Sox came up with was to replace him with Orlando Hudson, who has hit .167/.253/.282 since joining the team. You can see how Youkilis would be exciting for them.
The Pirates are in second place in the NL Central, and they've scored six runs this season. Casey McGehee would probably lose at-bats with a Youkilis trade, and that's a good thing. Kevin Youkilis: natural enemy of first basemen named Casey in the wild.
I say screw it. Put Youkilis at second base. Double ticket prices. I'd pay.
And there's always, always, always a mystery team or five.
The rundown isn't to predict where he'll go -- heck, I have no clue -- but just to present the idea that the Red Sox will get a better return than you think, especially if they're eating salary. The teams up there are interested because they suspect the old Kevin Youkilis is still rattling around in the current Kevin Youkilis. I'd wager that two of those teams are very convinced that the 2012 version is a total anomaly, and that this is a rare chance to acquire a middle-of-the-order hitter midseason.
And if there are just two teams who think that, there's going to be a bidding war. It won't get crazy -- upper-tier prospects probably aren't going to switch organizations -- but it won't stay cheap.
The Red Sox trading Youkilis just to make room for Middlebrooks this season still doesn't make complete sense -- it ignores how recently Youkilis was good, and how ominous Middlebrooks's slump and strikeout-to-walk ratio are. But if the Red Sox can get something of value, it's not a crazy idea.
And with a lot of teams willing to trade for an all-expenses-paid Youkilis, the Red Sox will get something of value.