Eventually, the Red Sox are going to need to either send Will Middlebrooks back to Pawtucket, or trade Kevin Youkilis to open third base up for the rookie. Right now, Boston has been able to skirt the issue thanks to injuries in the outfield, but with Cody Ross coming back soon, and both Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury possibly back in the next month, using Adrian Gonzalez in right field isn't going to be an option for much longer.
Ken Rosenthal feels a Youkilis trade is "inevitable", and over the last few days has discussed a few suitors for him. The Pirates, currently in first place in the NL Central and in no way is it because of their offense, could use another bat, while the Dodgers, also in first, could use a hand at either third base or first as they attempt to take the NL West for the first time since 2009.
It's not as easy as just offering Youkilis up and getting prospects back, though. According to Rosenthal, Youkilis has enough questions attached to both his health (Youkilis has averaged 119 games the last three years and already missed time in 2012) and production (Youkilis owns a 686 OPS on the season, and 742 since returning from the DL) that Boston is going to have to pay up if they want to get prospects in return. If not, about all they will get from a deal is financial relief (and room for Will Middlebrooks in the lineup):
One rival executive declared flatly that there is "no chance" the Red Sox could get prospects for Youkilis unless they paid the majority of his salary. A trade for a pitcher with a comparable contract might work, but the teams that would want Youkilis are contenders, and likely reluctant to part with pitching.
Boston might not be in need of pitching (at least, not anymore than any team is at a given time during the season), given their stacked bullpen, the imminent return of Andrew Bailey, and the combination of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook for starting depth. It's not perfect, but they would need to house a pitcher coming back in a trade somewhere anyway, and with Clay Buchholz rounding back into form, there isn't an obvious place for a starter to go like there was a month ago.
Prospects, though, are intriguing, especially if they are of the non-40-man-roster variety, from the lower levels of the minors. Boston's 40-man roster is overflowing at the moment, so if the Red Sox want to pay Youkilis' salary in order to bring in low-level prospects, something could likely be arranged. But, as Rosenthal said, without that financial commitment to a deal, it's unlikely to go down that way.*
*Though not as unlikely as the Red Sox trading Will Middlebrooks to the Phillies instead of Kevin Youkilis, despite the Phils desire for the younger, cheaper player under team control. Our Phillies' sister site has this particular lust-driven news item covered.
Rosenthal mentions that a three-way deal might have to happen in order for Ben Cherington to move Youkilis and get something back, or something that involves Boston trading Ryan Kalish and a prospect for "the desired return." Youkilis, Kalish, and a prospect sounds like a sizable package, leading to the question of just what is the desired return in a Youkilis deal?