While Cody Ross, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carl Crawford are on the disabled list, having both Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks around works. That's because Adrian Gonzalez can head to right field in order to give Youkilis time at first rather than third, opening up playing time for the rookie Middlebrooks. This plan won't work forever, though, and with Ross starting a rehab assignment this weekend at Triple-A, it's unlikely it's even going to last much past next week.
This is why, even if the Red Sox haven't outright started shopping Youkilis on the trade market, they've at least made it clear they're open to doing so. Teams have been sending their scouts to go see him, but based on what Ken Rosenthal and Danny Knobler separately reported on Tuesday, not everyone is coming away impressed:
One scout from interested team went to see Youkilis, sent back very negative report: "For what he costs, he can't do anything."— DKnobler (@DKnobler) June 12, 2012
That might sound harsh, but there's a lot of truth to that statement.
Youkilis has hit .219/.303/.352 this season, and while he started off well enough after returning from the disabled list, is now down to .219/.315/.359 in the 19 games since. He's whiffed a career-worst 26 percent of the time, is drawing walks in just eight percent of his plate appearances -- that might be impressive for players who aren't Youkilis, but that's easily the lowest rate of his nine-year career -- and has his lowest power output since 2005, before he turned into anything resembling a power hitter.
Youkilis always had lofty batting averages on balls in play -- his career rate is .327 -- but over the past two seasons, that number has dropped. While part of it could be poor luck, the increase in strikeouts, decrease in power, and drop in walks suggests he's just not having plate appearances of the same quality anymore, and isn't seeing or isn't able to wait for his pitch and drive it into the gap like he used to. At least, not nearly as often.
The third baseman has struggled while ahead in the count, suggesting he's being a bit too passive at the plate and letting the pitcher control his at-bats. He's seeing 4.5 pitches per plate appearance, but rather than lead to a plethora of walks, it's resulted in a significant number of two-strike counts. Youkilis has hit well with two strikes on him, but that's a relative thing: being well above-average in two-strike counts means Youk has a line of .241/.304/.337 in that situation.
He might need to be a bit more aggressive at the plate, rather than let the pitcher force him to work with two strikes. The old Youkilis might never be coming back, given he's now 33 and has been dealing with injury after injury for the last four seasons, so it's time to adjust to that situation. This is especially true with Youkilis struggling against non-fastballs, as he can't just let the pitcher throw what he wants in pitcher's counts.
The drop in BABIP and his production isn't new, as it's been a problem for him since August of 2011, when he was dealing with a sports hernia and a hip issue. It's also worth noting that Youkilis, who has always been better against lefties than his fellow righties but was still productive against them, now has a pronounced split over the past season-plus: he's hit just .225/.332/.390 against righties since 2011 began, and just .198/.274/.313 in 2012. He's not a complete offensive force these days, and it's hampering his production, and will eventually hurt the Red Sox, who might have better players around at this stage of his career, if he isn't dealt or given more time off. Specifically, against right-handers.
If Boston can't deal Youkilis, and he isn't capable of being the player he used to be anymore, the job just might have to go to Will Middlebrooks anyway. We haven't quite reached that stage yet, as teams seem more to be scoffing at the idea of paying for Youkilis than they are of acquiring him. But if he doesn't improve his now multiple problem areas, even that might change in the coming weeks.