Hey there, ladies... (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Whether they like it or not (and from the comments you're about to read, they definitely don't) the Red Sox are going to have to make a decision about third base. Youk is coming back and there isn't enough room on the diamond for both he and Will Middlebrooks.
Here's what GM Ben Cherington had to say about the situation, courtesy of the Globe:
“If [Kevin Youkilis] returns in a week and is ready to go, he plays third base. He’s been here. It’s great that Will [Middlebrooks] has come up and done a good job and we like him a lot and he’s a big part of our future. But Youk’s on the DL and he didn’t lose his job because he got hurt.’’
A little ornery, sure, but that statement doesn't leave much to be interpreted. Once he returns, the job is Youk's. No questions asked. Only, Bobby Valentine seems to have a different take:
When asked what happens when Youkilis returns, Valentine said, “That’s a little premature. Those things usually play themselves out. No need to make a decision until you have to. It’s too early to make any decision like that. Brooksie has played very well and given us everything we could have asked for and more. He’s done a great job in all aspects of the game.’’
For whatever reason, Bobby Valentine doesn't seem to be a huge fan of Kevin Youkilis. I'm sure this statement will do nothing to ease any tensions between the two.
Like, probably every single one of you reading this, I've been a pretty big Youk supporter over the years. If the Sox don't trade him (which is certainly option C, and a real possibility) I full expect the Sox to hand the job back to him; and I would be perfectly content with that decision. But I don't think you do that right away.
Since taking over for the injured Youkilis, Will Middlebrooks has been everything the Sox had hoped for and more. In 11 games he's batting over .300 with 4 home runs, 5 doubles and 11 RBIs. Numbers that far exceed Youkilis' during his first 18 games. There's no reason the Sox can't ride Middlebrooks' hot bat for a bit longer and let Youk fester in Pawtucket until his confidence is back up.
But once Youkilis is ready, and assuming he is still with Boston, don't expect to see Middlebrooks staying up in the majors. Valentine made it clear that he's against keeping young, good talent on the bench. And you certainly don't want to see the Sox derail Middlebrooks' progress by taking away his in-game reps.
If I had to make the decision, I'd keep Youk in Pawtucket for a week or so to give him some reps and to see how Middlebrooks responds with Youk on his heels. Then, once he's ready, I drop Will to AAA and insert Youk back at third. If he continues to struggle, you can always bring Middlebrooks back up and do whatever you need to do with Youk. But Youk's been too good and too consistent for too long for the Sox to just turn their backs on him.
Middlebrooks' day will come. It's coming very soon. He's just going to have to wait a bit longer.