In Which We’re Obligated to Discuss Kevin Youkilis

I wasn’t really planning on looking into trade possibilities so early – major in-season trades rarely happen before July 1 – but the events of the last few days have conspired in such a way that it’s all but unavoidable. The Dodgers have lost Matt Kemp until July, they’re coming off their first four-game sweep at home since 1993, and the offense is sputtering as the good feelings of looking towards Kemp’s return have quickly evaporated. Not only that, we’re hearing that they’ve been looking into a variety of position players, and now we’ve got Danny Knobler of CBS Sports saying “Red Sox are telling teams they definitely intend to trade Kevin Youkilis.”

Knobler expands on the Dodgers here:

The financial power of the Dodgers’ new ownership group could really be seen on next winter’s free-agent market, where the team is expected to go all-out in an effort to sign Cole Hamels.

“They love him, and they’re saying they’ll do whatever it takes to get him,” said one rival club official, who speaks regularly to Dodgers people. But the Dodgers will likely try to flex their financial muscle on the July trade market, too.

With their team sitting in first place in the National League West, Dodgers officials have sent out word that they will try hard to acquire both a starting pitcher and a hitter before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

“The one thing that won’t be an obstacle for them is money,” the rival official said.

The Dodger farm system hasn’t had nearly as good a start as the parent club, so the team is limited in terms of prospects who would be coveted trade chips. The solution for the Dodgers could be to go after players with bigger contracts, and offer to take on more of the money.

Let’s keep in mind that there’s probably an 80% chance that Knobler is being fed misleading information regarding Youkilis, because what team would ever devalue their player by saying they’re definitely going to trade him? Still, it’s fun to speculate, and while there’s plenty of other trade options out there that we’ll discuss in the coming weeks, Youkilis is most intriguing because he can play first base or third, which just so happen to be the two of the biggest Dodger problem spots along with shortstop. (I’m assuming that Kemp comes back healthy and that between Tony Gwynn, Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, and Alex Castellanos you can patch together a decent left field crew.)

Youkilis has been a main part of this recent Red Sox dynasty for nearly a decade now, remaining productive despite a litany of injury concerns. (In the last few years, he missed the final two months of 2010 due to thumb surgery, two stints on the DL last year due to back pain and later a sports hernia, and then 22 games earlier this year with more back woes.) Though he came up as a third baseman, he shifted to first for several years and then returned to third last year as Adrian Beltre departed and Adrian Gonzalez arrived; this year, he’s part of a logjam caused by the emergence of third base prospect Will Middlebrooks, a situation which has seen Gonzalez playing right field on a semi-regular basis.

Still, despite the injuries, Youkilis has remained productive. Last year, he hit .258/.373/.459, good for a .366 wOBA which would have topped every Dodger other than Kemp. This year, he got off to a slow start as he tried to play through the back pain, but he’s been on base 13 times (including two homers) in the nine games since he returned. Contract-wise, he’s owed the remaining portion of $12m this year (assuming a regular payment schedule, that’s ~$8m or so remaining) and has a $1m buyout of a $13m team option for 2012. He does not, so far as I know, have a no-trade clause. Defensively, he’s regarded as slightly above-average at first and at least average at third.

While there are obvious concerns about his injury history, there seems to be little question that he would be a sizable upgrade over either Juan Uribe or James Loney, in addition to bringing the flexibility to replace either one as events warrant. The question, of course, is what would the cost be? The Red Sox are only three games out of first (though oddly, still in last place in the ultra-competitive AL East) and rarely sell or look for salary relief, though with plenty of injured outfielders on their way back they can’t continue to stick Gonzalez in right field.

Writing at Over the Monster, pal Marc Normandin suggests that since “Boston’s 40-man is going to be super crowded, I assume (and could totally be off-base) but the return would involve low-level prospects who don’t require a 40-man spot yet.” Which is fine, since the Dodgers are basically using their entire 40-man roster in the bigs right now, and I assume that the Sox aren’t dying to get Tim Federowicz back.

A few weeks ago, I noted that the Dodgers had so many intriguing mid-level starting pitchers in the system that it would make sense as a starting point for a trade. Other than Chris Withrow, who is on the 40-man, none of them require a 40-man spot. (Again, that’s just Normandin speculating, anyway.) While I know we all love all of those guys and that for some, the idea of trading for yet another older Boston infielder isn’t appealing, we have to know that there’s zero chance that we’re going to see every last one of those guys be a successful Dodger. In some cases, extracting value via trade is payoff enough, and if the Dodgers expect to be in the hunt this year – which it’s clear they do – trades are going to need to be made, and prices will be high.

I wouldn’t want to trade Zach Lee, but if the package required including an Ethan Martin? An Aaron Miller? A Matt Magill? An Allen Webster? The 3-4 other guys who are just like them? Any bullpen arm, majors included, that wasn’t Kenley Jansen? Maybe they want depth to replace Youkilis and might like Scott Van Slyke? It wouldn’t be only one of those guys, of course, because the Red Sox are going to require real actual talent to give up Youkilis, but sure, I could definitely live with that; Youkilis’ back woes and salary mean that I don’t expect this to be a “Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler” situation from last year, not that the Dodgers have a Wheeler to give away anyway.

You could argue, and I might just do so later this month, that Paul Konerko is a better choice, since he’s a bigger bat having a better season. He’s also older, can’t play third base, and on a team which may be less inclined to move him. Either way, I think we can all expect that the Dodgers are going to do something over the next two months. If the price is right, Youkilis could be a great fit for a team that’s badly in need of help at the infield corners. Besides, his OBP next to A.J. Ellis? Delicious.