MLB Trade Scenarios: 5 Kevin Youkilis Deals That Make Sense for Both Teams

Stephen SikoraContributor IJune 6, 2012

MLB Trade Scenarios: 5 Kevin Youkilis Deals That Make Sense for Both Teams

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    According to a report by Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, the Red Sox have made Kevin Youkilis available to other teams, and “definitely intend” to trade him. This comes as no surprise, as there’s currently a logjam in the Red Sox infield with Youkilis, Will Middlebrooks and Adrian Gonzalez. Although Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington called the report “inaccurate” in an email to WEEI.com, he also added, “It’s our job to listen if teams have interest.”

    The emergence of rookie third basemen Middlebrooks, hitting .314/.340/.559 with 22 RBIs in 26 games, has forced manager Bobby Valentine into what he calls “tomfoolery”—switching Youkilis between first and third, having Adrian Gonzalez play right field, and occasionally sitting the red hot rookie. It’s a temporary fix to a situation that can’t continue for much longer. With Middlebrooks hitting so well, there’s no sense in having him on the bench every third day or even once a week. Plus, playing the Gold Glove winning first basemen in the outfield is severely limiting Gonzalez’s defensive value.

    Both CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and ESPN Boston, listed five teams as possible landing spots for Youkilis: the Dodgers, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Reds and Phillies. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweeted Sunday that both the Phillies and Diamondbacks were in Toronto scouting Youkilis during Boston’s weekend series with the Blue Jays.

    For insight into what teams may be willing to part with to acquire Youkilis, one can look to the Mets trade of Carlos Beltran last year. In exchange for the six-time All-Star, New York received highly regarded pitching prospect Zach Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants—the team's first-round pick in 2009 and their number two prospect going into 2011.

    There’s no reason to think that the Sox won’t look for a similar swap. Although Daniel Bard was recently demoted to Triple-A to sort out his control issues, Valentine stated that he intends the stay to be short. Other than Bard, the Sox have four capable starters, if you believe Clay Buchholz is back on track. The rest of the pitching staff is solid, as their bullpen has pitched extremely well of late even without the arms of Andrew Bailey or Mark Melancon. And rather than add depth to an outfield that’s performed admirably without its top three players, the Sox should look to acquire pitching at the minor league level.

    Before he was traded in 2011, Beltran was hitting .289/.391/.513 for the Mets, numbers consistent with his career averages. Knee injuries kept him sidelined for over 170 games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but before then Beltran had played at least 140 games for eight straight years.

    Although Youkilis is currently hitting .234/.308/.383 for the season, since coming off the disabled list May 22 he’s at a .289/.372/500 clip, much more in line with his career norm. The three-time All-Star, however, has never played more than 147 games in a year, and his totals the last three seasons are 136, 102 and 120.

    Beltran was a free agent at the end of the year, while Youkilis has a team option for 2013, on a lesser salary than Beltran. With Youkilis’ limited durability and slow start to this season, Beltran was probably slightly more valued by other teams last year than Youkilis is this year. But Youkilis isn’t far removed from a dominant stretch over the 2008-2010 seasons, during which he had a .404 OBP and accumulated 15.9 wins above replacement. The latter figure was top 10 in MLB, higher than players such as Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez over the same time period.

    Beltran’s trade for Wheeler is a great place to start when determining Youkilis’ value. The next five slides show some possible trades the Red Sox can make with each of the five teams mentioned by Heyman and ESPN Boston.

Cincinnati Reds

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    The Reds currently find themselves in first place in the NL Central by three games. In recent years they’ve been carried by their offense—Cincinnati finished first in the NL in runs scored in 2010 and second in 2011—though this year they’ve found success by way of their pitching. Their 3.44 staff ERA is sixth best in MLB, aided by top 10 showings in K/9 and BB/9.

    A major hindrance to their offense this year—13th in the NL in OBP—has been their performance at third base. Scott Rolen began the year as the starter, but his atrocious line of .174/.238/.304 has led Reds’ third basemen to be last in the NL with a .199 AVG and .243 OBP. Rolen went on the DL May 12 after he felt pain in his shoulder, and after a career full of injuries to the area, the 37-year-old may be close to done for his career.

    Rookie Todd Frazier has stepped up in his place with a line of .267/.320/.611. But the high SLG is unsustainable for the 26-year-old, who has a career high 27.8 percent K rate, close to 10 percent above the league average. In his previous two seasons at Triple-A ball, he had only 32 home runs in nearly 1000 at-bats, and before he was called up this year Frazier hit .231/.268/.359 in Triple-A. For a team with playoff aspirations, an established third basemen would go a long way in helping them achieve their goal.

    So what do the Reds have to offer? A look at their farm system sees a strong collection of players even after their offseason trade for Mat Latos. Lefty power pitcher Tony Cingrani was the team’s third-round pick in 2011 out of Rice University, and according to FanGraphs is the team’s eighth best prospect and third best pitcher. 

    In High-A ball this season Cingrani had a 1.11 ERA with 11.3 K/9, and was recently promoted to Double-A where gave up two runs in 6.2 innings in his first start. Since the Reds only have three lefties on their 40-man roster, Cincinnati may be more willing to part with a top right-handed pitching prospect, one of whom is Daniel Corcino.

    The 5’11’’ 21-year-old international player had a solid year in Single-A ball last season, with 10 K/9 and a 3.42 ERA in 139 innings. This season his numbers have taken a small dip as he’s advanced to the Double-A level, with an 8.7 K/9 rate and an increase of more than 2 BB/9 en route to a 3.79 ERA in 57 innings.

    As FanGraphs notes, Corcino’s small stature keeps him from getting on top of the ball and inducing ground balls, and some scouts project him as a future reliever. With a low to mid 90s fastball and quality slider, however, there’s plenty of opportunity for him to succeed as a starter at the major league level. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    After a successful 2011 season in which Arizona went 94-68 and won their division by eight games, the Diamondbacks looked to build upon that success and once again contend for a playoff spot this year. But that hasn’t been the case so far, as they currently are four games under .500 and trail the LA Dodgers by nine games in the NL West.

    After scoring the fourth highest number of runs in the NL last year, Arizona is in the bottom half of the league in 2012. A lot of that has to do with the decline of potential superstar Justin Upton, who’s hitting .243/.340/.365 this season after going .319/.369/.529 in 2011. His five home runs this year put him far below the necessary pace to match the 31 he hit last season.

    But another reason for their offensive fall has been the play of third basemen Ryan Roberts, who’s putting up a terrible line of .234/.291/.329 for the D-Backs. Acquiring Youkilis to start at the position would go a long way towards improving their offense as the team looks to get back to .500 and challenge the Dodgers for first place.

    According to FanGraphs, “pitching has become the indisputable strength” of the D-Backs’ system, as their first three prospects listed all have the potential to be number one or two starters. The Diamondbacks would be wise to use their minor league depth to improve their current team, as they did last offseason when they traded number two prospect Jarrod Parker to the Athletics for Trevor Cahill.

    Their top prospect Trevor Bauer is most certainly untouchable, as he’s one of the best minor league pitchers in the game and has never averaged less than 11 K/9 in any of the levels he’s pitched in. What Arizona may be willing to give up is Andrew Chafin, their eighth rated prospect last year and a player who’s pitched rather well this season.

    The soon to be 22-year-old lefty features a repertoire that includes a low to mid 90s fastball, a solid slider and an improving changeup. In 63 innings in High-A ball this year, he’s struck out nearly 12 batters per nine frames and has a 3.57 ERA but a 2.41 FIP. The depth of the Diamondbacks system should make Chafin expendable as they look to improve their offense at the major league level.

Chicago White Sox

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    The Chicago White Sox have been one of baseball’s most surprising teams this season. In what many experts thought to be a rebuilding year for the club, they currently lead their division by 2.5 games and have the AL’s second best run differential at plus 40. The AL Central is one of the weakest divisions in baseball, so even if their hot start fades, they have a legitimate chance to advance to the playoffs.

    There is one glaring weakness on their team, however. The play of their third basemen has been absolutely appalling. Orlando Hudson, Eduardo Escobar and Brent Morel have combined to hit .179/.251/.224, with the slugging percentage the lowest mark in all of baseball for the position. Morel has a .195 SLG in 113 at-bats, unimaginable numbers for a starting player. An upgrade to Youkilis at the position would give the White Sox a great offensive boost, as they look to continue their unexpected success this year.

    The Sox minor league system is one of the worst in the majors, as they’ve performed poorly in both the draft and with international signings. One prospect, recently acquired for reliever Sergio Santos, could prove to be what the Red Sox are looking for in a trade.

    Nestor Molina, a 23-year-old right-hander signed by Toronto in 2006, was finally moved into the rotation full time last year and delivered. His 2.58 ERA and 9.55 K/9 coupled with great control in High-A ball led to a late season promotion to Double-A, where he dominated. The White Sox started him in Double-A this year, and although his K:BB ratio increased, his 3.27 FIP earned him a recent trip to Triple-A.

    FanGraphs projects Molina as a number three starter with his only question being durability; he was originally an outfielder and has only pitched over 100 innings in one season. But with impeccable control and a developing splitter to go along with a low 90s fastball, a chance on Molina is one Boston may be willing to take.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Phillies could certainly use some increased offensive production. Although their pitching staff ranks first in MLB with a 3.43 xFIP behind their trio of aces, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, their limited offense has led them to last place in the NL East. With Halladay now out for an extended period of time, there’s even more pressure on the bats to produce.

    A great example of just how poorly they’ve performed is evident by looking at the win-loss record of Cliff Lee. Although Lee has a 2.92 ERA on the year and has three outings where he’s given up one run or less, his season record is 0-3. If the Phillies are serious about making the playoffs, their offense needs to pick up; a team with such a high-caliber pitching staff should not be hovering around .500.

    Placido Polanco has played the majority of games at third base and has a dreadful .319 OBP and .361 SLG. With Ryan Howard out, Ty Wiggington’s taken most of the at-bats at first base, and has put up a line of .257/.341/.396. Youkilis could step in right away at either position, and if Howard can come back, a 3-4-5 of Hunter Pence, Howard and Youkilis could be quite formidable in the playoffs.

    So what can the Phillies give up? Their farm system has been depleted of late due to blockbuster trades for players such as Halladay, Pence, Lee and Roy Oswalt. According to FanGraphs, their top rated prospect is 22-year-old Trevor May. While it may seem to be a steep price to give up their best player in the minors, May hasn’t fared exceptionally well making the jump from High-A ball to Double-A this season. He sports a 4.94 ERA and 3.87 FIP, and his K/9 has gone down from 12.1 in 2011 to 8.95 in 2012.

    That’s not to say he won’t succeed in the majors, though. His mid 90s fastball mixes with a developing curveball, changeup and slider, a solid repertoire for a young pitcher. If he can lower his walk rate, which is currently at 3.7 per nine innings, FanGraphs predicts that he has the potential to develop into a No. 2 starter and could eventually become an innings eater. It sounds like the high risk-high reward trade for veteran players that the Phillies have been known to make over the recent years.

    The Sox may also look at lefty Jesse Biddle, the 27th overall pick out of high school in the 2010 draft. In 57 innings at High-A ball this year, the 20-year-old from Philadelphia has a 2.51 ERA and 10 K/9. He’s also cut back his BB/9 from 4.5 in 2011 to 3 this year, as FanGraphs writes that he has the potential to become a number two starter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Dodgers started the year off on fire, winning nine of their first 10 games as Matt Kemp exploded out of the gate. He hit .417/.490/.893 over the month of April, and he and Andre Ethier have carried an offense that’s scored the fifth most runs in the National League.

    But with Kemp out for at least another four weeks because of his second hamstring injury of the year, the Dodgers may attempt to make up at least a part of his massive production. They have a need at first base, where James Loney is currently hitting .247/.321/.355, and has slugged below .400 in three of the past four years.

    LA’s also gotten subpar production at third base, where a host of players, including Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy, have combined to hit .271/.352/.381. By acquiring Youkilis, the Dodgers could switch him between first and third while playing the matchups for his teammates on the bench. For a team that’s lost six of their past nine games, including three by one run, the increased offense would certainly be a welcome addition.

    Although the Dodgers minor league system as a whole is below average, they do have a number of high caliber pitching prospects. One of them is Chris Reed, a former closer at Stanford. FanGraphs rated him as LA’s third best prospect, as the three-pitch repertoire he displayed at the college level prompted the team to move him into the starting rotation in the minors.

    In High-A ball this year, the 6’4’’ 2011 first round pick has a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings, helped by a 10 K/9 rate. Though he’s untested as a full season starter, and FanGraphs notes there are questions about his “ability to maintain his peak stuff late into games,” the southpaw has great potential, possibly enough that the Dodgers may not want to give him up.

    If so, the Sox should look at Allen Webster, the Dodger’s number four prospect. Although he was drafted in only the 18th round out of high school in 2008, the 22-year-old righty has developed quite well. His 10.3 K/9 and 2.33 ERA in high A ball last year earned him a promotion to Double-A later in the season, where his ERA jumped to 5.04 and K/9 dropped to 7.2.

    He’s put up better numbers this year, improving his K/9 to 8.47 and registering a FIP of 3.24, compared with 4.05 at Double-A last year. His mid to high 90s fastball complements a curveball, changeup and slider, although FanGraphs writes that he may end up dropping one of his breaking balls to focus more on his current three pitches.

    With either prospect, both sides should come out well; the Red Sox get a valuable asset for a player who doesn’t have as much use for them anymore, and the Dodgers get a gamer who can step in immediately and provide a boost to their offense.