The Bobby Valentine and Kevin Youkilis saga of Patriot's Day might be over after a few meetings and conversations, but as Alex Speier points out, that doesn't mean Youkilis's career crossroads is at an end. He's 33 years old, in the last guaranteed year of a contract, and as we've discussed many a time in this space, coming off of yet another season ended by injury and surgery.
Valentine's comments merely added to that combustible mix. After all, a slow start -- Youkilis went 0-for-12 with five strikeouts and five groundouts to start the year -- already had led to questions about whether eight punishing seasons in the big leagues had left Youkilis breaking down. It took just three games this year for Youkilis to find himself staring at a pack of reporters in Toronto asking whether he could still play the game at his customary levels.
There was a part of me that, when I originally saw Valentine's comments, debated if he meant that Youkilis simply wasn't trying to kill himself on every play, or no longer acting as if the season was over every time he didn't get on base. Granted, Valentine's way of relaying this "news" was odd and likely caused more problems than it would ever solve, but that didn't stop me from wondering if there was a nugget of truth buried in his pretzel logic.
Speier, as always, is thorough in examining the Youkilis of today, from the standpoints of health, age, his swing, and his contract. While it's too early to seriously believe Youkilis is done as a high-quality player, all the signs are there that point to it being a too-real possibility. With Jacoby Ellsbury out for a while yet, the Red Sox need Youkilis to step up and be as much of the player he used to be as possible. More games will tell us whether that's a possibility, just as they'll tell us whether he'll be on the Red Sox in 2013.
Tired of Justin Thomas as the team's primary lefty? ("But that's Franklin Morales", you say. Not so, since Morales seems to be more setup than lefty-on-lefty.) Andrew Miller might be on the way soon. Miller has struck out nine and walked five in his five innings in the minors, showcasing both the best and worst of the Andrew Miller Experience in his short time there.
Thomas doesn't have a whole lot of upside, but Miller does. Thomas also has an option, and Miller does not. Miller should get his shot to make Bob McClure look like a genius, or yet another in a long line of pitching coaches who couldn't get Miller to do what his stuff suggests he should be able to. As the lefty reliever in the pen, one capable of not just missing bats but also inducing groundballs, he could also help some of those, "Thomas and his change-up or Matt Albers and his grounders" debates that go on in Valentine's head.
As a lefty reliever, on yet another pitching coach, this is the last gasp of patience I have for Miller in Boston. But it's likely their last-ditch effort with him, too. And Rich Hill is still working his way back, so the search for bullpen help does not end at Miller.
With Ellsbury out (get used to hearing that phrase a lot in the next few weeks), it's important that Crawford make it back. Both of Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross weren't supposed to start, and they're matched up with Darnell McDonald, another guy best-suited to a part-time role. As far as outfielders three-through-five go, Boston's doing well for themselves. But those guys have to be outfielders one-through-three for a while, and the longer that goes on, the more they are tempting fate.
Luis Exposito, recently designated for assignment along with Michael Bowden to open up space on the 40-man roster, was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles. He became expendable in the Red Sox organization thanks to Ryan Lavarnway's continued progress, as well as that of Dan Butler. Butler isn't anything special, but he's capable, and that's about where Exposito ranks on the utility scale.
Bowden remains with the Red Sox, but it's hard to believe no one would claim him now that he's available. Someone out there has to have a lottery ticket space on their 40-man for a former prospect with a recently-added cutter.