<
>
Insider

Sox break up Youk/Middlebrooks logjam

It's certainly understandable to be skeptical that 33-year-old third baseman Kevin Youkilis has anything left in the proverbial baseball tank, but then again, the Chicago White Sox were using Orlando Hudson to play third base. Youkilis is a significant upgrade, and I don't think he is done helping a real baseball team or a fantasy team after Sunday's interesting trade from the Boston Red Sox.

Youkilis was, not too long ago, a coveted fantasy asset; he was hitting for batting average, taking walks and supplying power. That hasn't been Youkilis this season, as back problems have likely played a role in him hitting .225. His walk rate and power also looked little like the former version. Of course, it is relevant that Youkilis was hitting .285 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs at the All-Star break last season. His second half was painful, probably literally, but this isn't exactly a player that was last productive in 2005.

What we don't know, of course, is whether Youkilis is healthy enough to contribute at prior levels. Can a change of scenery really make a difference? We've seen it happen statistically, but in terms of durability, it doesn't. Youkilis claims he's healthy since coming off the disabled list four weeks ago, and over his past four games, after he had lost his starting job to productive rookie Will Middlebrooks, he was 6-for-14 and driving the ball again. Fenway Park is a nice place to hit, but so is U.S. Cellular Field.

If you ask me who to choose between Middlebrooks and Youkilis, knowing what we know about each player, I'd have to take the rookie. Middlebrooks is hitting for power to all fields and while he won't be hitting .326 for long with his lack of plate discipline, he's not Adam Dunn, either. Middlebrooks has played in only 41 games and he's already the No. 15 third baseman on the ESPN Player Rater (and ninth over the past 30 days), a legit threat for 25 home runs. He's not in my current top 10 at third base, but this trade does make him worth owning in all standard leagues. Currently Middlebrooks is at 57 percent owned, up 21 percent over the past week. I could see him hitting .275 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs this season, which is fantastic considering he made his big league debut in May.

Alex Rios has been hitting fifth behind Dunn and Paul Konerko and doing a fine job, but he's allergic to drawing walks. On reputation alone, Youkilis should inherit a decent spot in the order and see opportunities to knock in runs.

While Middlebrooks is worth activating in the leagues he's owned in, with Youkilis we still don't know yet. Add him in case the power-hitting, disciplined and healthy version from previous seasons is finally back, but do add him. White Sox third basemen (Hudson, Brent Morel mostly) have hit an astoundingly miserable .167 this season (.466 OPS) with one home run. Youkilis is better than that. I won't pronounce him the ol' .300-hitting version, but I could see him hitting .270 with 10-12 home runs the final three-plus months. He was doing that before injury hit him last year. In 2010, Youkilis hit .307 with 19 home runs in only 102 games. I don't think he's done, but be prepared for missed games. There's reason for hope that he'll hit when he's playing, though, and regardless this trade is good news for Youkilis and Middlebrooks and their teams.

As for what the Red Sox received in the deal, it's not much. Well-traveled right-hander Zach Stewart is past prospect status, and had recently been demoted to Triple-A Charlotte. In 97 1/3 innings for the White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays the past two seasons he has allowed 131 hits and 21 home runs. It's unlikely he'll matter to fantasy owners or the Red Sox this season, if ever.

Defensive stalwart Brent Lillibridge managed to hit 13 home runs and steal 10 bases for the 2011 White Sox, despite receiving only 186 at-bats. He also batted .258. That was as good as it gets. Lillibridge is hitting .175 with nary a homer this year. He can play every position except catcher, and finds his way into the "SportsCenter" highlights with his defensive prowess, but it's hard to see him contributing mightily from any fantasy aspect in Boston.