Solving The Middlebrooks-Youkilis Dilemma

Will Middlebrooks is making Kevin Youkilis easy to forget. The 23-year-old top prospect has taken the world by storm as Youkilis’s injury replacement. Even in taking an 0-for-4 in Wednesday’s loss to the Royals, Middlebrooks owns a .520 wOBA on the back of four doubles and three home runs in six games. It has been an incredibly exciting debut for Boston and fans of young players in general, one that of course raises the question: what happens when Kevin Youkilis returns?

Ben Cherington has already shot down one popular solution: moving Middlebrooks to the outfield. With Carl Crawford out much longer than expected, there will be a bit of shallowness to the Red Sox outfield even upon Jacoby Ellsbury‘s return. Playing Middlebrooks in a corner would allow the Sox to platoon Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney in the other, which was the likely plan for the duo heading into the season. If Middlebrooks’s bat is real at all, it’s quite likely an improvement on running Darnell McDonald or Marlon Byrd (and his -1 wRC+) out there on daily basis. Middlebrooks is projected for a .251/.286/.420 line (.309 wOBA) by ZiPS, and his fast start between Triple-A and MLB could be reason to believe he can do even better. Byrd and McDonald are each projected for .306 wOBAs, but McDonald hasn’t played that well since 2010 and Byrd, again, has a -1 wRC+ this season.

Middlebrooks should be able to outhit both of them. He would, however, need time to learn the position — he’s never played it professionally — a potential detriment to his development as a hitter. Considering this and the fact that McDonald and Byrd would likely be superior defenders, the gain seems minimal. The Red Sox apparently agree, and that leaves us back at square one: who plays third base upon Middlebrooks’s return?

The option of keeping both on the roster is unrealistic. At just 23 and in the midst of his fifth professional season (fourth full), Middlebrooks needs consistent at-bats regardless of the level he is assigned. Similarly, keeping Youkilis and his $12 million contract on the roster as a bench bat isn’t a plausible solution either, both due to the money and that Youkilis, despite his early season slump, is probably still a better hitter than Middlebrooks. Even in last year’s down campaign, Youkilis managed a 126 wRC+ and hasn’t been worse than 124 since 2006. Middlebrooks could be a good hitter already this season, but asking him to put up a 125 wRC+ as a 23-year-old rookie with just 100 PAs at Triple-A is a tall order. Just seven third basemen have hit that well at 23 or younger since 2000: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Pablo Sandoval, David Wright, Evan Longoria and Eric Chavez.

Still, if the Red Sox could get average to above-average third base production out of Middlebrooks, they’d be well served to shop Youkilis, as his contract should fetch value. Beyond the $12 million this season, the Red Sox also hold an extremely attractive $13 million club option with just a $1 million buyout. With a low-risk shot at holding Youkilis for two years, Boston could conceivably bring in pieces for both the present and future. Specifically, the Sox could use another corner outfielder or any sort of useful pitching arm — most likely in the bullpen unless they are bent on replacing Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront or Dan Bard (or decide to move one of them to the pen).

Of potential playoff contenders in need of a corner infielder, Cleveland, Milwaukee, the Dodgers and the White Sox immediately come to mind, and perhaps Philadelphia depending on Ryan Howard‘s progression or willingness to move Placido Polanco to second base. More suitors could easily crop up in the next few weeks as well.

Given the drama already forming between Bobby Valentine and Kevin Youkilis, a trade may have been inevitable. However, the presence of Middlebrooks as a legitimate option at third base gives the Red Sox an excellent opportunity to turn this negative into a positive and fill gaps at areas of greater need. Boston should consider themselves lucky — the injury to Youkilis, opening the door for Middlebrooks, may lead to an even better Red Sox team in 2012 and beyond.



Print This Post



Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Andrew
Guest
Andrew
4 years 2 months ago

I’m not sure where the value is paying 12/13m for an aging 3B with an increasing streak of injury proneness who, if everything clicks, might – might – be worth 8 WAR this year and the next, with ZIPS having him at 3 WAR this year and presumably less next year. That’s zero value, once we realize he’s not going to hit 3 WAR this year due to injury/early slump. Bringing in a notable piece for Youkilis just seems unlikely.

Sam
Guest
Sam
4 years 2 months ago

If the Red Sox can find a trade partner who both needs a 3B AND doesn’t have a strong DH slot, Youk could definitely be worth his contract. With Big Papi, Youk doesn’t get any fielding days off, which can’t help his aging body. If he can play DH for 1/3 of his at-bats, that might keep Youk a happy and healthy Youk, which would be great for anyone trading for him. I think Boston could pull off a very beneficial deal here. They just need to get working on it.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
4 years 2 months ago

Being worth his contract is not the same as bringing back decent value in a trade. Youkilis has to be worth considerably more than his contract to justify another team giving the Sox a useful piece in addition to taking on that contract. I suppose it’s possible that the Sox could eat half of it and get something halfway useful back but it still seems to make more sense to me to keep Youkilis and let him improve.

Derek
Guest
Derek
4 years 2 months ago

you obviously don’t watch the Dodgers much. Also lol at him only producing a 8 WAR. The truth is even if Youkilis produces at a reduced rate, like he did last year, he’ll still be better than 90% of the 3rd basemen in baseball.

The Dodgers would be absolutely thrilled to have a 3rd basemen under contract for the next 1.5 years that will put up a .850 ops.

That being said the Sox shouldn’t expect some huge bounty for Youk. Obviously whether they end up contending, or not, will decide what they want or if they want to trade him but if they do I don’t see them getting top prospects.

Shedding his salary and opening up a spot for Will should be enough. At most they can get a back end starter and late relieving prospect for Youk. David Wright possibly being available could also make his value even less.

filihok
Guest
filihok
4 years 2 months ago

Ned did trade Carlos Santana for 3 months of Casey Blake. I can only imagine what he’d give up for 1.5 years of Youk.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 2 months ago

I’m a Yankee fan who would love to see Youkilis go, but this strikes me as highly reactionary. Middlebrooks has shown flashes of what he can be, but I don’t think his limited time in the bigs is enough to show he’s ready to do it. Youkilis is the superior player and if the Red Sox want to compete they should hope that getting him healthy gets him back to the player he was. Not shop him when his value is lowest in the hopes of picking up a corner outfield to be a stopgap until Ellsbury/Crawford return or a bullpen arm.

Greenlee
Guest
Greenlee
4 years 2 months ago

Would like to watch Middlebrooks rake, but I’m with Andrew on this one. That said, the Tribe is mighty weak at the corners.

Mario Mendoza of commenters
Guest
Mario Mendoza of commenters
4 years 2 months ago

Milwaukee has a one-season hole at 1B that Youk could fill. SF has a 3B need short term and if Belt doesn’t pan out could move Youk to 1B. But I’ve been wondering all season if the Cubs would trade Garza for Middlebrooks.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 2 months ago

Not straight up, but probably as the main piece in a package. The Sox might view Middlebrooks as expendable if they think Xander Bogaerts is going to end up as a 3rd baseman.

Minja
Guest
Minja
4 years 2 months ago

What are you talking about? Xander and Middlebrooks are seen as having similar ceilings, but Xander is all potential at this point, and has to cross at least two thresholds (continuing to prove himself in high A and then at least in AA) before reaching the point Middlebrooks is already at. Xander is not a major leaguer for at least 2 more years.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 2 months ago

Even with Middlebrooks being at AAA one step away from the majors and Bogaerts having much farther to go, Marc Hulet ranked Xander 29th and Middlebrooks 55. I think it’s fair to say that at least some people think that Bogaerts has a much higher ceiling. Obviously given that Middlebrooks has already reached the majors he has a much higher floor.

Minja
Guest
Minja
4 years 2 months ago

I love the idea of shopping him to SF, which has a hole at 1b right now (of their own making, since they’re splitting Huff, Pill, and Belt). Youkilis + a RP (Melancon?) for Belt, Gary Brown, and Matt Harvey sounds ridiculous, until you realize that you’re dealing with Brian Sabean, who loves overpaying for “proven veterans”.

Dan
Guest
Dan
4 years 2 months ago

I agree that Xander is still very raw and thus much less likely to reach his potential, but I think you are wrong about their ceilings. Pretty much every scouting report I’ve read has Xander with a much higher power/OBP potential than WMB.

Bob
Guest
Bob
4 years 2 months ago

correction:

The Red Sox apparently agree, and that leaves us back at square one: who plays third base upon Middlebrooks’s return?

Should be Youklis’

CampBrice
Guest
CampBrice
4 years 2 months ago

Which will probablty take care of itself, because if Youk plays at 3B again he’s likely to end right back on the DL and then Middlebrooks is back up the Pawtucket-Boston shuttle.

Ben G.
Guest
Ben G.
4 years 2 months ago

If the White Sox are somehow still in contention, This is a move I can totally see Kenny Williams doing. I shudder to think what he would give up.

MattM
Guest
MattM
4 years 2 months ago

I was thinking the same thing, but not having contention in mind. White Sox take a gamble and trade Pierzynski, Thornton and Viciedo to the Red Sox for Youkilis and Garin Cecchini. AJ and Thornton don’t figure into the Sox plans after their contracts are up. They take Youk who’s only 33 and hope he turns it around, if he does they can either exercise his option, renegotiate a contract or let him walk and wait for Cecchini to develop. This helps the Red Sox by solving their 3B problem, giving them a solid catcher for this season, a bullpen upgrade in Thornton for the next two seasons and a decent power hitting prospect in Viciedo.

Bob Zaffrann
Guest
Bob Zaffrann
4 years 2 months ago

So . . . the Sox should trade a guy who has had the second best OBP in the AL over the past six years for a corner outfielder or bullpen arm because he got off to a slow start in his first 18 games? And they should replace him with a guy from AAA that ZIPS projects as having a .700 OPS? And this makes sense, because Middlesex must be “ready,” given that he is off to a hot start through all of 100 PAs in AAA and 6 games in MLB? Hmmm . . . might that be a small overreaction to a meaninglessly small sample size for both players?

Father Time
Guest
Father Time
4 years 2 months ago

“second best OBP…over the past 6 years”

Youk is old. You really think he’s replicate the last 6 years?

blah blah blah
Guest
blah blah blah
4 years 2 months ago

youk is not superior, maybe in age and wisdom, but not raking.

youk has been overrated by writers for ages, he was consider “MVP” type in predictions, it never came true.

it would take garza + dempster to get middlebrooks. because there is 132 gms left and they wont make the playoffs even with dempster and garza. looks like the red sox could be packing it in.

with the pen troubles in NYY both NYY and BOS could both not make the cut to be the 5 teams that make the playoffs! think about that for a change!

even if the NYY or BOS make it as a 4 or 5 seed, theres no chance they make it out of the divisional round. giving up a middlebrooks is a no go.

Greg
Guest
Greg
4 years 2 months ago

There was a stretch of three years (ending i think two years ago) where Youk was second to only Pujols in wOBA. That doesn’t really have much predictive value for this year and next, but saying he has “been overrated by writers for ages” just shows that you’re completely clueless.

That you think Middlebrooks would bring back Garza and Dempster is even worse.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
4 years 2 months ago

The notion that he’s overrated simply b/c he didn’t win the MVP is absurd as well.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 2 months ago

I think that Kevin Youkilis was the first player of his kind to be properly valued. An unathletic corner infielder who never hit 30 home runs, was considered one of the best players in the game, because people finally understood the importance of OBP.

Tom B
Guest
Tom B
4 years 2 months ago

ROFL… don’t lump NY into your Boston problems. The Redsox will be lucky to not finish dead last in the AL East this year. The Yankees could use Swisher as a closer and still make the second wild card.

B N
Guest
B N
4 years 1 month ago

Tough talk from a team that’s only half a game up over a team that’s lost two full outfields to the DL… ;)

While I also believe the Yankees will gain a postseason berth, they haven’t exactly distinguished themselves as better than the Red Sox this year. Which is kind of funny, when you consider how much the Red Sox struggles have been spotlighted while the Yankees’ similarly mediocre play has had little media attention by comparison.

yosoyfiesta
Member
yosoyfiesta
4 years 2 months ago

Youkilis can still hit, Middlebrooks is exciting and as a Sox fan, getting a guy like Youk who is one of the problem children (IMO) out of the locker room would be great. This team needs a shot in the arm from guys like Middlebrooks. Youk can still hit, the upgrade defensively and a slight downgrade offensively that Middlebrooks brings makes it enough of a wash that getting rid of Youk for an arm makes sense. Give up Youk and get Masterson back, he’s having a down year, maybe the Sox can get him on the cheap, he’s a real nice mid-rotation arm and he’s young. The Tribe has started hot and getting a bat like Youk’s in their line-up would help. I’m all for shopping Youk while he still holds some value.

horsepoop
Guest
horsepoop
4 years 2 months ago

cant they do this:

middlebrooks 3 out of every 7 games play third
1 out of every 7 games play DH
1 out of every 7 games play SS
1 out of every 8 games play LF

does it take a genius to rec’m’d they platoon the aging youk? platoon the aging ortiz every 7th game? ortiz can man first base giving gonzo a day off cause hes needs a breather because hes not the 150RBI guy they thought they were getting.

they play M young at 1st,2nd,3rd, and even DH so why cant they do it here? playing m young at DH had him career Highs in AVG AND RBI. go figure.

NBarnes
Guest
NBarnes
4 years 2 months ago

I shudder to think about what jerking Middlebrooks all over the diamond would do to his progress as a player. He’s transitioning solidly from AAA to the majors, which is a transition that can be very hard on players. I really would prefer to not see the Red Sox make it harder by bouncing him around like a pinball.

Dan S
Guest
Dan S
4 years 2 months ago

If they won’t move Middlebrooks to the OF, move Youk there.

Send him to the minors for ‘rehab’, and have him start getting use to LF. If Manny Ramirez could play it for all those years, Youk should be able to be at least serviceable at the position. I think that’s the ideal situation assuming the team wants him in there.

If your going to move Youk, might as well throw in a pitcher too (if possible). I wouldn’t mind if they moved Youk and Bucholz (maybe Beckett, but I don’t think his contract is friendly) for a younger arm, better arm.

Relddem
Guest
Relddem
4 years 2 months ago

What about a Youk-Billingsly swap? Both guys seem to be in their respective irrational managers doghouse (how the hell do you pull Billingsly with less than 90 pitchers in the 4th inning of a close, low score game for a pinch hitter??).

The Red Sox might have to send a Doubront type (fringey MLB ready young arm) since Billingsly is younger and under contract for longer and the Dodgers would still need an arm, but it’d be an interesting gamble for both teams. The upgrade from Doubront to Billingsly should be larger than the downgrade from Youkilis to Middlebrooks on the Sox side, and for the Dodgers the upgrade from Uribe to Youk would similarly be larger than the downgrade from Billingsly to Doubront.

Sam
Guest
Sam
4 years 2 months ago

That sounds like an interesting trade to me.

CampBrice
Guest
CampBrice
4 years 2 months ago

That sounds like a great deal that could help both clubs

ettin
Guest
ettin
4 years 2 months ago

The Angels might be a possible suitor as well. Trumbo isn’t a natural 3B although he is making strides to become serviceable there.

Trading Youklis for Ervin Santana would be a swap of nearly identical contracts and would give the Red Sox another serviceable starter and the Angels a legitimate 3B.

Trumbo could then go to the super-sub role for 1B, 3B, DH, and the OF getting his bat in the line up on a regular basis. Youklis would add a greater on-base presence in the Angels lineup and they’d only be on the hook with him for this year and next.

If an injury occurs Trumbo could fill the slot and we have other INF options to serve the backup role. The rotation spot could be filled by Garrett Richards and I think Youklis needs a change of scenery.

horsepoop
Guest
horsepoop
4 years 2 months ago

they got rid of abreu so they could make room for a DH morales to play full time.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 2 months ago

Yes just what the Angels need more players who play the corner positions.

Bob Zaffrann
Guest
Bob Zaffrann
4 years 2 months ago

“second best OBP…over the past 6 years”

Youk is old. You really think he’s replicate the last 6 years?

Tell that to LAA, who just signed a 32 y.o. Pujols to a 10 year deal. Same could be said of Ortiz after prolonged slow starts in ’09 and ’10, then 2011 and 2012 happened. Pretty sure Youkilis’ numbers will be fine by years’ end.

Tom B
Guest
Tom B
4 years 2 months ago

Which numbers are those exactly? Certainly not “games played”… which is why Boston can’t trade him or his contract.

ODawg
Member
ODawg
4 years 2 months ago

I don’t agree. Can they really only have one or the other? For Youkilis, ZiPS (R) projects 449 Plate Appearances….you figure Youk is certainly capable of missing some of those PAs due to injury (as is Middlebrooks, for that matter). He’s also been on a steady decline and could afford to sit a bit more to leave room for more PAs for the youngster. There’s something like 500 3B PA left in the Red Sox season, so if Youkilis got scaled back to roughly 300 of the 3B PA the rest of the year, and Middlebrooks got 200, how disastrous is that? They’ll each pick up a few more here and there at 1B (Youk) and DH, and those PA #s assume full health. There may be some flaws with the statistical piece here, but bottom line – this team is in no position to get rid of good players. Unless they can trade Youk for a starting pitcher who can give them more than Doubront, Buchholz, or Bard (taking upside into account), or an OF who is good enough to keep getting PAs when Ellsbury and Crawford get back, you’re not really upgrading anything and are selling low on a solid player.
If we get on towards the trade deadline and the team looks hopeless, start talking about dumping him for prospects, sure. But not on May 10th.

George
Guest
George
4 years 2 months ago

If the Red Sox really wanted to turn some heads they should shop Middlebrooks and get some pitching. His start, both in triple-a and the majors, is making him look wayyyyy better than he is or will be. I think in his prime, we are looking at a 3B with poor OBP skills but can jack 25 hr, with above average defense. Solid player, but not a star. He just strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough.

Tom B
Guest
Tom B
4 years 2 months ago

THIS is correct. Trading Middlebrooks is how you attain “value”… not by trading Youkilis and the $26mil he’s owed.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan
4 years 2 months ago

People are vastly overrating Middlebrooks’ actual talent level based on a hot start, but he’s still liable to be a very valuable major league regular down the line. Sure, he’d get more value than Youk, that’s a given, but that doesn’t mean shopping him would be a smart move.

Mr Punch
Guest
Mr Punch
4 years 2 months ago

Youkilis is a fine hitter but he’s always hurt (4 years in a row). He won his Gold Glove at first, where Gonzalez is installed. It made sense to think of him as Ortiz’s successor at DH, where a righty would be advantageous, but that’s not compelling if he’d bring a return in trade. As trade bait, his value is as a RHH 1B/DH who can play some 3B, not as a 3B as such. We’ll have to wait and see if he comes back and hits, and what team needs him in July.

JD
Guest
JD
4 years 2 months ago

At the end of para. 3, you say when Middlebrooks’s returns, don’t you mean Youk?

Joe
Guest
Joe
4 years 2 months ago

The other option they have is that they could let Ortiz walk and let Youkilis DH which would let them rest Gonzalez and Middlebrooks sometimes since he plays both 1b and 3b.

Joe
Guest
Joe
4 years 2 months ago

Oh….And also might help keep Youkilis healthiER

Cheapskate
Guest
Cheapskate
4 years 2 months ago

Youk has OF history.. Why is there no talk of moving him out there and keeping Middlebrooks at the corner?

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan
4 years 2 months ago

“Youk has OF history.. Why is there no talk of moving him out there and keeping Middlebrooks at the corner?”

Because he was absolutely lost out there.

Darnell McDonald has pitching history, but I doubt we’re throwing him into the rotation any time soon.

supershredder
Guest
supershredder
4 years 2 months ago

You know, Adrian Gonzalez played 13 innings in RF last years … just saying. This was probably already mentioned, but I don’t feel like scrolling through all the comments.

Jimmy Wahl
Guest
Jimmy Wahl
4 years 2 months ago

Why all the insistence that Youkilis be traded and stationed at 3b. The Dodgers need help at either corner infield spot so they can put him at first or third. The Sox don’t need another outfielder. They’ve got too many as is. And the team receiving Youk wouldn’t be on the hook for 25 million unless they chose to. They’d just have to pay the rest of the 12 million hes owed this season.

Youkilis to the Dodgers for Eovaldi. Make it happen.

As far as Bogaerts goes, hes got much more natural athleticism than Will “The Drill” Middlebrooks and would likely transition to a corner outfield slot better if he fills out too much to stick at short. Putting Bogaerts in left (with Crawford moving to center when Ellsbury walks as I am predicting) would work out well.

Joe
Guest
Joe
4 years 2 months ago

But there is a reason that Crawford moved off center to begin with.

steex
Member
steex
4 years 2 months ago

Did anyone else see the title of this piece and immediately picture C. Montgomery Burns standing in a grocery store aisle saying “Middlebrooks…Youkilis…Middlebrooks…Youkilis…” in confusion?

I’m in way over my head! Are you here to solve my Middlebrooks problem?

Red Sox Talk
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Youk is from Cincinnati, and he would love to go back there after his contract with the Sox is up. Perhaps he could match up well with CIN or CLE if the Sox pick up the shipping. The Reds have a lot of nice young arms, which the Sox are in dire need of.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 2 months ago

This article seems to imply that the ‘dilemma’ for the sox is a surplus of quality third basemen, so much so that they have to trade one to patch holes elsewhere. but isn’t the real ‘dilemma’ the exact opposite?

i.e. that the red sox’ only choices to fill the third base spot are either an aging declining first baseman with multiple chronic injuries or a moderately ceilinged 23yr old with barely over 100pa above AA who is likely a below average contributor at the mlb level this year?

Shouln’t red sox fans be thanking their lucky stars for WMB’s timely hot streak right when youk got injured, and praying and hoping that he can keep it up long enough for youk to get healthy again…and then pray and hope that youk can at least return to somwhere close to last year’s level when he returns?

Bob
Guest
Bob
4 years 2 months ago

As a Brewers fan, I would fully support bringing in Youkilis for this year (and next). However, there isn’t much that the Brewers have that the Sox would want. Anyone interested in Nyjer Moran to help out with the OF problem you have?

Sam
Guest
Sam
4 years 2 months ago

You know, this is almost certainly Scott Rolen’s last year, the Reds have shown that they’re willing to spend money, and Youk’s from Cincinnati. Probably a pipe dream for any Reds fan, but I’m just saying

Jacob
Guest
Jacob
4 years 2 months ago

The Fenway Factor for Youkilis is huge. The Dodgers would not give up much for him if even interested. Wright who plays in a pitcher’s park and puts up bigger numbers is who the Dodgers want.

Eric
Guest
Eric
4 years 2 months ago

Hasn’t Youk played the outfield? I say move him out there from time-time and he can also play 3rd and 1st, too when guys need a day off. Heck, even AGon played the outfield last season, didn’t he?

wpDiscuz