The Red Sox moved quickly to get Kevin Youkilis out of their lineup and out of their clubhouse this summer. With Youkilis hitting well once more, the decision looks like it might have been a mistake.
In July of 2004, the Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra, one of their longest-tenured and most popular players, to the Chicago Cubs. Garciaparra was still productive, but he’d just turned 30, and both his bat and his glove had slipped. Worse, he’d been wounded by Boston’s attempt to trade for Alex Rodriguez the previous winter and had reportedly become a distraction in the clubhouse. With Garciaparra a few months away from free agency, the Sox made the bold decision to ship him to Chicago for Orlando Cabrera, improving both their defense and their chemistry with a single swap.
We know how that trade turned out. The Red Sox won the World Series, and Garciaparra continued to decline, turning in a subpar season for the Cubs in ’05 and remaining only marginally effective until his retirement in 2010. According to a 2005 article in The Baltimore Sun, Garciaparra “was said to be stunned and depressed for the first week after his trade,” but “later came to appreciate the change of scenery, a fresh start, less pressure, different expectations.” The trade might have made him happier, but it didn’t help him recapture his youth. The Sox were smart to trade him when they did.
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The Red Sox have too many good players, and, yes, this could turn into a problem.
How do you solve a midseason roster crunch? If there are two players for one position, there are a number of options. Trade one of the players, demote one, put one on the disabled list, or even sit one on the bench and play the hot hand. None of those solutions necessarily maximizes the team’s assets, but sometimes that is okay. If we are talking about two last-guy-out-of-the-pen types, then it isn’t of particular importance.
Sometimes the stakes are higher. When the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez, they found themselves with two Hall of Fame-caliber shortstops and only one shortstop position (Joe Maddon hadn’t been invented yet). Demoting, trading, and the rest of the above list were not options. Sometimes there are too many babies for the bathwater. Nobody wants dirty babies.
The majority of Michael’s VP list turns over this week, but he’s got plenty of replacements lined up, including three who picked up their first home run of the year last week.
Statistically speaking, a single home run (like a single hit) is fairly meaningless. It’s the ultimate small sample, showing how one batter did against one pitcher (and one pitch) under one specific set of conditions. But psychologically speaking, when it’s the first home run of the season, it can mean so much more. The hitter feels confident in his swing or relieved at having gotten his first longball of the season out of the way, and it could mean a turnaround is coming. Look at Albert Pujols: in 27 plate appearances since his first jack of the season, he’s picked up 5 RBI—as many as he picked up in the 114 plate appearances before he finally went yard.
Looking for a replacement for your injured third baseman? Michael looks at plenty of hot-corner options this week, especially in Playing Pepper.
As Jason Collette and Paul Sporer covered in BP’s Towers of Power Fantasy Hour podcast this week, four front-line third-base qualifiers—Evan Longoria, Mat Gamel, Kevin Youkilis, and Pablo Sandoval—hit the DL this past week, leaving fantasy owners scrambling at an already-thin position. While many of the replacement players are marginal, sometimes a warm body is all you need to keep your fantasy squad afloat until more help arrives via an early-season callup. I’ll examine a few of those hot corner replacement options in this week’s column.
A trio of perplexing pitchers leads off today's Ten Pack.
Dylan Axelrod, RHP, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
The fact that Axelrod even reached the big leagues is quite an achievement. A 30th-round pick in 2007 by the Padres, Axelrod lasted a year and a half before landing in Indy ball, but all he did was get better. His primary skill is the ability to throw strikes. He pounds the strike zone with an 88-91 mph fastball, has a decent slider, and a somewhat-less-than-decent curve. He has no changeup, but he hits his spots and keeps hitters off balance; while that's the kind of pitcher who should hit a wall, he just hasn't yet. With 7 2/3 shutout innings on Sunday, he now has a 1.08 ERA in four starts for the Knights to go with 26 strikeouts and just four walks. He's already a great scouting find for the White Sox, and has to upgrade that status by becoming a usable arm as a No. 5 starter or middle reliever, which exceeds any expectation ever put on him.
Mitchell is not the best prospect on the Yankees Triple-A staff, but don't be surprised if he's the first to the majors. Scouts think he could be effective as either a back-end starter or middle reliever, as while he's on the small side, he's ultra-athletic and features a fastball that has slightly above-average velocity and plenty of movement. He's not going to be a star, but he should have big league value, even on a championship-level roster.
Today's Ten Pack features more than a few notable A-ball performances in systems that could use some good news.
Tyler Austin, 1B/OF, Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
A 13th-round pick in 2010 who signed for an above-slot figure of $130,000, Austin showed impressive offensive ability in the New York-Penn League last year; on a Sally League squad loaded with much more well-known prospects, it's Austin who has stood out, going 8-for-13 with three doubles, a triple and his third home run of the year. His season line is at .438/.471/1.031 after eight contests. He has nowhere near the tools of some of his Riverdog prospect brethren, but the bat stands out, and is very much for real.
Will the Red Sox be sporting a bevvy of top prospects next year, or will they be derailed by beer and fried chicken?
Prospect #1: 3B Will Middlebrooks Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources. Who: Middlebrooks, a fifth-round selection in the 2007 draft, has slowly worked his way up the professional ladder. Thanks to trades and general attrition, he has become the de facto top prospect in the system. His ceiling isn’t going to bewilder people with its towering presence, but his floor is high and steady; the end results should be at least a solid-average player for a decade.
The 23-year-old Texan is quite skilled with the leather at third; he has good actions and instincts to go along with a very strong arm. At the plate, the hit tool is fringy and batting average will be a challenge at the highest level, but the developing power is legit and will eventually grade out as a plus tool. Middlebrooks has a good baseball face and the grit of a scrawny utility type, only in the package of an athletic 6-foot-4, 200-pound first-division type.