There's a moment in most every baseball player's career when it finally becomes apparent that the torch needs to be passed along, whether it be the failure of a veteran to produce at the level at which he once excelled, or the youthful tenacity of a kid on the way up, who has made it abundantly apparent that his time has come.
In that light, Kevin Youkilis needs to be a full-time player. Starting immediately.
Youkilis' 3 for 5 night (home run, double, two runs scored) should have sealed his case to Terry Francona that he needs to be in the lineup more regularly than a start every week. Last night was the first start for Youkilis since June 2, but it's inevitable that when he's in the starting lineup good things happen for the Sox. In every game this season in which he has at least three at-bats, Youkilis has had a hit.
And he'll most likely be riding the pine tonight against the Reds. The injustice is reaching a level that can no longer be ignored.
With Theo Epstein vowing to make changes to a team that is sputtering along, only four games over .500 and the worst team ERA (5.01) of any team outside of Kansas City and Tampa Bay, perhaps the one made first should involve the Greek God of Walks.
That means trading Bill Mueller.
Right now, Youkilis is this team's Willie McGee. Where do they play him? Terry Francona shouldn't feel the need to have to toss Youkilis out at an unfamiliar second base, or find him sparing moments at first, where he's now third on the depth chart with the addition of John Olerud. Nor should Youkilis have to wait around every seven days to spell Mueller at third. He's too good a player, and as the team is beginning to find out more and more, much too valuable for this franchise's current and future prospects.
Mueller is a free agent at the end of the season, and likely not to return to Boston with Youkilis waiting in the wings. But by trading Mueller now, Epstein can perhaps get in return an arm for the bullpen, where drastic change is needed. Easier said than done, of course.
Mueller would need to be dealt to a playoff contender in need of a veteran third baseman for the stretch, a team also willing to give up a valuable arm. Chicago and Los Angeles are two AL teams who could use an upgrade at third, with Joe Crede and Dallas McPherson respectively. But in all probability, the Angels and White Sox will be Boston's competitors for the AL wild card, so to do business with them at this stage of the season is rather counterproductive.
If we go to the National League, the Dodgers pop up as possible candidates, where Olmedo Saenz has recently been solid, but surely prime for an upgrade all the same. Yhency Brazoban would be a dream steal for Epstein from Paul DePodesta, but that's highly unlikely, with the fireballer having settled in as the setup man for Eric Gagne. A pitcher like Duaner Sanchez is possible or provided he is healthy, Elmer Dessens, a more likely candidate thanks to his $1.3 million salary.
Do either of those moves make your team better, though? It's highly questionable. If Elmer Dessens is the glue you need to fix your bullpen, things are a lot worse than you could possibly imagine.
For as much as Mueller has brought the Red Sox in his three seasons in Boston, the inevitable is on the way, and all Youkilis keeps doing is speeding up that process every chance he gets. But still six weeks away from the trading deadline, a lot can happen, and it might signal which direction Mueller is headed. If Boston tanks from here on out, Epstein may force a team to take Mueller in order to acquire a player like Johnny Damon or Mike Timlin. If the Red Sox catch fire, they're likely to ride out the season with the veteran. There aren't a whole lot of teams out there calling in need of Bill Muller, although many would salivate over the thought of having Youkilis on a daily basis.
That's understandable. Red Sox fans are feeling the same way right now. That's no slight to Mueller, just the natural progression of the game. Kevin Youkilis' time has come. And the time has come for the Red Sox to address it.