The Red Sox clubhouse on Sunday offered a stark reminder that baseball is nothing more than a business.
Merely an hour after Kevin Youkilis was surrounded by adulation the likes of which even Fenway Park rarely sees, his nameplate had been ripped from his locker and clubhouse attendants were chucking his equipment and other belongings into various containers.
Youkilis had to go. It was a necessary baseball (business) move and one that could result in a win-win scenario for the Red Sox and White Sox, to whom Youkilis was traded for right-hander Zach Stewart and utility man Brent Lillibridge.
For Chicago it gives an immediate and massive upgrade at a position that was killing the club this year -- White Sox third basemen had a collective .485 OPS entering Sunday, far and away the worst mark in all of baseball.
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For Boston, the benefits, or potential ones, are much more diverse. At its core, the trade gives manager Bobby Valentine and general manager Ben Cherington a deeper, more balanced roster from top to bottom.
Their lives will be easier going forward. Here is why:
No more daily lineup drama
As Cherington said in his press conference early Sunday evening, “Middlebrooks needs to be in the lineup. That’s pretty clear.”
No longer will Valentine have to pencil Youkilis’s name in just to keep him fresh or happy and do something undesirable like sit the hot-hitting Middlebrooks or shuttle Adrian Gonzalez to right field or whatever he needed to do on a daily basis.
Gonzalez, whose OPS as a first baseman is nearly 100 points higher than it is as a right fielder, can drop his anchor and play his natural position from here on out. Middlebrooks can set forth knowing he is the regular third baseman. The bench will no longer be saddled by three corner infielders and thus provide more flexibility.
About that flexibility
Lillibridge is expected to arrive in Boston on Monday. When he does he instantly becomes the most versatile player on the team. The 28-year-old has played every position except catcher and pitcher, he has good power against lefties and he can run the bases.
Lillibridge is no Youkilis but by swapping them on the active roster the flexibility for Valentine just increased by a remarkable degree.
You can never have too much of it, right?
Pitching, of course. We’re talking about pitching. The fact that the Red Sox had Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook start over the weekend says all you need to know about how a starting staff can fall apart in a heartbeat. Only Jon Lester and Felix Doubront remain from the Opening Day rotation. Needless to say, Stewart provides more depth where depth is always needed.
He will start out at Pawtucket. With a solid performance or two he will instantly serve as the next in line if and when another starter is necessary. In addition, the 25-year-old former third-round pick offers more long-term upside than many of the current candidates -- he was rated Toronto’s top prospect entering 2010 by Baseball America. Cherington is hopeful that the right-hander can flash some of the form that had him highly touted at one point in time.