The Red Sox have plenty of reasons to shop Kevin Youkilis aggressively. He's a hobbled 33-year-old vet in the midst of a horrible season (.225/.311/.359), he's a likely free agent over the winter (assuming the club declines its option), and he's considered a divisive, irascible personalty in the clubhouse. Those fans aren't chanting "Youk," they're actually booing.
And then there's Will Middlebrooks, the up-and-coming cornerman for Boston. The way he's hitting in The Show, no wonder the Red Sox are desperately trying to shove Youkilis out of town.
Middlebrooks was the star of Boston's sweep over the Marlins, going on a 6-for-8 binge with two homers and seven RBIs. He's carrying a nifty .316/.353/.551 slash for the Sox, with eight homers and 31 RBIs. He's been effective against righties and lefties alike, and while his numbers do have a Fenway Park tilt, he's still slugging .500 on the road.
The 23-year-old kid is unowned in two-thirds of Yahoo! leagues as we go to press. There are some obvious concerns to Middlebrooks: he's only played 38 MLB games, after all, and he's carrying a messy K/BB rate (37 whiffs, seven walks). And then there's the presence of Youkilis, which blocks Middlebrooks from playing every day. It's hard to carry part-timers in most mixed leagues; ideally you want someone who's likely to play 150 or more games.
But here's the thing with Middlebrooks: he's going to have his own job very, very soon. The Red Sox have shifted the Youkilis trade talks into overdrive, making it known that Boston will pick up most of the remaining salary in order to get a deal done. I'll be flabbergasted if Youkilis is still on this club come Aug. 1, and I'd bet a deal goes down weeks before the actual deadline. If you're still able to grab Middlebrooks, act now: the pop is very real (even if the average trims down), and you always want to be invested in the elite offenses, especially when half of the games come in the run-scoring Disneyland known as Fenway Park.
I'll make it easy for you — here are some corners, widely owned, that I would drop in favor of Middlebrooks: Daniel Murphy (48 percent, no homers, .270 average), Mark Reynolds (42 percent, batting-average sinkhole), Chase Headley (53 percent, home-park hell). And as soon as Youkilis hits the road, I would rank Middlebrooks over guys like Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee and Justin Morneau. There's your blueprint, gamer. Go do what you need to do.
• There are some crazy splits under the Wilin Rosario hood. He's doing most of his damage away from Coors Field (his OPS is 263 points higher on the road), and he's been overmatched against right-handed pitching (.195/.230/.451). That latter problem has dogged Rosario for most of his pro career, so it's encouraging to see him hit a couple of homers off northpaws in the Philadelphia series. The stats at Coors? Throw that in the fluke file. Rosario still has the catching gig mostly to himself while Ramon Hernandez rehabs; the kid receiver is unowned in 83 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Half-Nelson or Full-Nelson? (USP)Sticking with the Rockies for a moment, anyone want to take a post-hype flier with infielder Chris Nelson? He was Colorado's first-round pick (ninth overall) back in the 2004 draft but he's been slow to develop. And although he's posted a .318/.36/.511 line at Triple-A Colorado Springs over a collective 167 games, he hasn't been viewed as a building block for several years. To be fair, an underwhelming 63-game sample in the majors last year (.250/.280/.383) served as an emphatic buzzkill.
Injuries have forced Nelson into the mix this month and he's come through thus far, hitting .289 with five homers in 45 at-bats. He went deep in the final two games of the Philadelphia series. Nelson's shown more patience this year (15 walks over 118 at-bats), though he's still taking plenty of loose hacks (31 strikeouts). I'll kick the tires for three main reasons: he's a multi-positional guy with pop, the club needs to play him, and thin air is always a plus. Nelson is unowned in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues, if you feel like a short-term plug-and-play.
• It's been a mixed bag for Alex Presley since he rejoined the Pirates two weeks ago. His .254 OBP is an eyesore, especially in the leadoff spot, but he is bringing category juice to the table (three homers, four steals, 10 runs). And with the Pirates winning and actually scoring runs for a change, Clint Hurdle might just leave Presley alone for a while. Are you willing to look past the batting-average risk? Presley is ready to go in 96 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• So much for the Felipe Paulino breakout story. He has a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is probably going to need Tommy John surgery. The Royals can at least feel good about Salvador Perez's return. He had a lengthy rehab stint but passed the test, at bat (.331/.361/.472) and in the field. Perez should be a Top 12 catcher the rest of the way, with the upside to be in the Top 7-8.
• The Athletics made the call for Derek Norris, a well-regarded catching prospect. He posted a .273/.331/.474 line at Triple-A Sacramento, with eight homers and five steals over 55 games. He'll probably split time with Kurt Suzuki going forward, so it will be difficult for either player to have a lot of mixer value for the moment. And obviously Norris has to deal with the pitfalls of his new home ballpark.
I'm not making an immediate move for the kid; let's see some results first. Norris went 0-for-3 against Clayton Kershaw on Thursday: double-play grounder, fly out, line out. Suzuki is expected to start Friday.
Hammond & Company (William Miller)Speed Round: Nothing new to say on James McDonald, he's still tremendous. His Almost Famous moment came a month ago; today, he's a legitimate cover boy. He's yet to allow more than three runs in any start, and he's yet to walk more than three batters in any turn. Enjoy the breakthrough, it's legitimate. … Joe Mauer is dealing with a sore quad and hasn't played in three games. The Twins miss his winning smile on the field. … Jacob Turner danced in and out of trouble against the Cardinals (5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 3 K). It's not clear how long he'll be needed in the Detroit rotation. … Dustin Pedroia took an 0-for-5 collar in Boston's win over Miami. He's insisted all along that he doesn't need a DL stint, but the results claim otherwise. … I don't know when Pedro Alvarez will go back to being his empty-swing self, but he is on a 9-for-17 barrage with five homers and two doubles over the last five games. He faces three Detroit right-handers this weekend, Fister, Mad Max and Verlander. I'm guessing he'll find a Max Scherzer pitch he likes and crush it 430 feet. … Allen Craig played through his wrist discomfort Thursday at Detroit, though he went 0-for-5 as the designated hitter. The Cardinals are in Kansas City this weekend, so the DH option remains. … Send all Matt Adams correspondence to Memphis; he's been returned to Triple-A. That might be a sign the Cards aren't worried about Craig. … The Rangers have declared Roy Oswalt ready for prime time. The righty will start Friday against Colorado. He's nothing past a streamable option on my clipboard; the age, park and layoff concern me. … I don't know if 82-year-old Mike Ilitch is the best source of Detroit injury news — no matter that he's the team's owner — but Ilitch is optimistic that Victor Martinez can play this year, perhaps as soon as August. Clip and save. Better yet, stash V-Mart on a DL slot if you can, just in case. Martinez is available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues and he still carries catcher eligibility. … The notebook for much of this column comes from Twitter; that's where I put a lot of my in-progress thoughts. You're welcome to follow along, and join the discussion.