Richard Justice

Market for Youk tough to determine

Justice: Market for Youk tough to determine

Market for Youk tough to determine
It's not that Kevin Youkilis would make the Dodgers better. Or the White Sox. Or the Phillies. As the Red Sox listen to offers, those are obvious plays to begin. He'd make all of those teams better and might even be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Youkilis could help a bunch of other teams, too. Since returning from the disabled list, he has looked like the Youk of all, and scouts believe he has more productive years left in him. Youkilis has also been an important part of winning teams, and he brings a toughness and a resolve into the clubhouse. Youkilis has never been universally loved among his teammates. His toughness and aggression have an edge to them, and sometimes rubs people the wrong way. But it's those very things that are part of why fans loved him so.

Youkilis appears to be the most intriguing name in play as teams sort through their needs in the eight weeks leading up to non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31. It's impossible to sort out the buyers and sellers at this point, because at least 20 teams are in the running.

But there could be plenty of really good players available, such as John Lannan, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Carlos Quentin, Jonathan Broxton, Zack Greinke, Josh Willingham and Matt Capps.

Every year, we hype the Trade Deadline like crazy, then attempt to explain why it's the most disappointing day of the year.

For every Randy Johnson, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia who are dealt at the Deadline, there are teams that retreat to a safe place and settle for shoring up the bullpen or the bench.

What makes Youkilis unique is that he's potentially a difference-maker, and those guys aren't traded all that often.

If Youkilis is healthy, he can be one of those guys. He's just 33, and between 2008 and 2011, his OPS was .933. That puts Youkilis in an elite category even after his batting average declined to .258 last season.

Since returning from the disabled list, Youkilis has looked plenty good enough to help. But because of the presence of Adrian Gonzalez and Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox have three players for two spots, and general manager Ben Cherington will only say that he has listened to teams that have telephoned.

Youkilis could be especially attractive because he's in the final year of his contract. If he plays well, a team could exercise his $13 million option for 2013. If he doesn't, he could be allowed to leave.

The Dodgers clearly are a very good fit, as their six third basemen have combined for two home runs and a .673 OBP. The Phillies have gotten even less. Meanwhile, the White Sox have gotten zero -- count 'em, zero -- home runs from third base. Would the White Sox and Red Sox do a Gavin Floyd-for-Youkilis swap?

The Giants and Pirates could use Youkilis at first base as they attempt to figure out what kind of impact they'd have. The Giants are in a "win now" mode, so Youkilis would make sense. The Pirates have a wealth of young pitching in the Minors; would trading for Youkilis push them over the top? This is the kind of deal they might make a year from now, when they're better positioned for the postseason. But if they see the National League Central as winnable, they'll almost certainly go for it.

As for the Red Sox, they almost certainly would like to get a quality starting pitcher in return. Does Floyd fit that description? How about John Danks? The Dodgers and Pirates both have solid rotations, but they may not be deep enough to make such a deal.

The Red Sox could be dealing with a timing issue. How long can Bobby Valentine continue to play Gonzalez in the outfield to clear a spot for Youkilis at first? Middlebrooks has been so productive that sitting him to showcase Youkilis at third could be problematic.

But Cherington probably doesn't have to worry about the American League East getting away from him. The Red Sox have won 16 of 23 and gotten to within three games of first.

With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury probably coming back at some point, Cherington has the kind of issues every GM would love to have. Unless Valentine has trouble keeping everyone happy, Cherington can sit back, field offers and decide whether trading Youkilis is even in his team's best interests.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.