Trading Youkilis For The Sake Of It Is A Mistake

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It’s not as simple as the Red Sox have a new third baseman; they don’t need another first baseman; and they have a DH, so they’re going to trade Kevin Youkilis away. They have to make sure: A) they aren’t going to need him; B) they’re getting something useful in a trade; and C) their position in the standings is secure enough (positively or negatively) to trade Youkilis away.

Will Middlebrooks looks like the real deal at third base and he’s younger and cheaper than Youkilis. But he’s still a 23-year-old rookie who strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk and is shaky defensively. The Red Sox need guaranteed production from third base and Middlebrooks, as talented as he is, is not a guarantee yet. Will Bobby Valentine—notorious for trusting his veterans over most rookies—want to play Middlebrooks through a slump when he has Youkilis as a proven commodity if healthy?

On the trade front, teams will be interested in acquiring a proven veteran like Youkilis in spite of his declining value, physical breakdown and reputation as a whiner. A change of scenery might be exactly what Youkilis needs for his whining to revert to being called “feistiness”.

It’s a fine line between the two. When the Red Sox were contenders every year, Youkilis’s sour faces and griping about anything and everything was seen as an intense player who wanted to win and wore his emotions emblazoned across his chest right above the words “RED SOX”. As they collapsed in 2011, that intensity was seen as a divisive and tiresome stream of complaints and “why me?” laments that no one wanted to hear from a player out of the lineup with injury.

They should not trade him just for the sake of it. Because he has a contract option for 2013 at $13 million with a $1 million buyout, the Red Sox don’t have to commit to any one strategy. If he proves himself healthy over the last few months of the season, over the winter many teams would be willing to give up decent value for a productive Youkilis for only one season. It’s got to be explored and thought seriously about before pulling the trigger. The Red Sox could come to an agreement with an interested club, exercise the option and trade him instead of taking whatever offer comes along just to get him out of town. He’s not a “get this guy outta here at all costs” player whose teammates can’t stand him. He might be annoying, but he’s not hated.

That it’s being reported that the Red Sox are telling teams they “intend” to trade Youkilis could be contingent on their position in the standings. If that’s the case, it doesn’t bode well for how they think the rest of this season is going to go. If they envision themselves as contenders, then they might need Youkilis as a backup or a regular player even if it means playing Adrian Gonzalez in right field or Youkilis in left. If they’re thinking that they’re not going to be able to get the ship straight, then it absolutely makes sense to take offers for Youkilis because, what’s the difference? They’ll be saying the season’s shot and the jettisoning of veterans of the Theo Esptein/Terry Francona era is going to begin in earnest.

GM Ben Cherington denied (in a semantic sort of way) that the team “intends” to trade Youkilis, but he didn’t say it’s not going to happen.

If it does happen during the season, it will be because the situation with the player has become so untenable that they had to get him out of the clubhouse or because they’re out of contention. Neither is palatable for the Red Sox and their fans, but if Youkilis is moved during the season it’s those scenarios that will make it a reality rather than the oft-repeated mantra of performing due diligence and keeping all doors open.