Kevin Youkilis Trade Ultimately Improves Red Sox Lineup, Defines Roles for Starters

Kevin Youkilis Trade Ultimately Improves Red Sox Lineup, Defines Roles for StartersStrip back all the emotions, the All-Star games, the hard-nosed play and World Series titles. Trading Kevin Youkilis probably only improves the Boston Red Sox' everyday lineup.

The way the situation had developed in 2012, every time Youkilis was penciled into the lineup, he was taking at-bats away from someone in the trio of Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks — or putting Gonzalez out of position in right field. With Youkilis no longer in the dugout and one less player who has an expectation of regular playing time, those three can do what they do best: hit the baseball.

In a lot of ways, removing Youkilis from the lineup mix doesn't really change much, especially given the dearth of at-bats he'd received over the last couple weeks. Really, the trade was much more about defining roles, creating offensive continuity, making manager Bobby Valentine's job easier and allowing players to come to work every day with a little more certainty than before.

"Bobby's done the best job he can at juggling the part he's had over the last few days," general manager Ben Cherington said after the trade. "But it was a challenge, and we were trying to find a resolution that would allow him to have a little bit more of a stable roster and lineup, and Will deserved to be in that lineup."

So, ultimately, that's what it came down to. Without infringing on the Evil Empire Yankees' right to Star Wars references, the student has become the master in the Red Sox third base situation. Youkilis took Middlebrooks under his wing upon Middlebrook's arrival in the big leagues, teaching him the right way to play baseball — only to have his lineup spot and, ultimately, roster spot usurped by the 23-year-old.

Clearly, however, Middlebrooks needed to be the regular starting third baseman, meaning there wasn't really room for a 33-year-old corner infielder with declining bat speed. In fact, the Red Sox did very well to get back Brent Lillibridge, who gives the club a perfect replacement piece on the bench. The 28-year-old has played every position except pitcher and catcher. He posted an .845 OPS last year in 186 at-bats. That's a valuable player coming off the bench.

The Red Sox may miss many intangibles about Youkilis — particularly after the reports of discord within the clubhouse. But they won't miss his tangible contributions at this point, and his absence likely makes the club stronger, at least on paper.

From here on out, the team lives and dies with Middlebrooks at third and Gonzalez no longer roaming the outfield. Here's betting they'll be just fine without Youkilis fighting for playing time.