Youkilis returns to Boston with Middlebrooks scuffling

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Youkilis returns to Boston with Middlebrooks scuffling

Both Joe Crede and Frank Thomas received rousing ovations from White Sox fans in their first trips to U.S. Cellular Field as a member of another team. Both players homered immediately after those ovations, too, trotting around the bases in Twins and Athletics uniforms, respectively. It was, to put it bluntly, kind of a weird sight.

Red Sox fans will probably give Kevin Youkilis the same kind of reception when he returns to Boston tonight (6 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) wearing a White Sox uniform. Maybe he won't hit a home run, but given how he's played with the White Sox, chances seem good that he'll at least get on base.

Youkilis joined the White Sox hitting .233.315.377 with four home runs and 14 RBIs. Thanks to the lights-out production of rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks -- who had a .949 OPS and nine home runs in 41 games on the day Youkilis was dealt -- and a strained relationship with manager Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox had to deal Youkilis. That's why the return for him was only a utility player and a pitcher who had serious home run issues, not to mention Boston sending a load of cash to Chicago with Youkilis.

But since that June 24 trade, Youkilis has looked like his old self, while Middlebrooks has rapidly regressed.

In 16 games with the White Sox, Youkilis is hitting .295.397.475 with three home runs, 15 RBIs and a 1012 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He's looked like his old self, serving as an ideal No. 2 hitter for a team that's gone 11-5 since acquiring him.

The same laudatory statements can't be said for Middlebrooks since the trade. He strained a hamstring and missed some time in early July, but post-Youkilis he's hitting .205.220.410 in 10 games.

That's an incredibly small sample size, but the 23-year-old was due for a regression. Middlebrooks' pre-trade BABIP sat at .380; since the deal it's at .214.

Like most young hitters, Middlebrooks doesn't have good plate discipline, walking in 4.6 percent of his plate appearances with a 23.9 percent strikeout rate. He has one walk and 10 strikeouts since the Youkilis trade, and as his BABIP regresses to the mean, his on-base percentage will continue to drop.

Consider this: On the season, Youkilis is hitting .251.340.406, while Middlebrooks is hitting .301.335.546. Despite Youkilis passing Middlebrooks in OBP, the younger third baseman is still offensively superior (.325 wOBA for Youkilis, .374 for Middlebrooks).

The Red Sox shouldn't have egg on their face over the trade with the White Sox -- their hands were tied, and Youkilis had to go. Maybe he improves if he stays in Boston, but maybe a move to Chicago to play for Robin Ventura was a breath of fresh air.

Regardless, as Youkilis receives a standing ovation from the Fenway faithful, kudos should be in order for the White Sox front office. Because 16 games in, the Youkilis trade has been an absolute steal.

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