BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox were already headed toward a difficult situation with the impending return of Kevin Youkilis and the outstanding showing thus far from rookie Will Middlebrooks. However, with Middlebrooks cooling off a bit and showing some weaknesses, the path was being cleared for Youkilis to reassume his job as the team’s starting third baseman.

Now, there’s this.

Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that a rival executive said that “[Bobby] Valentine wanted Youkilis out as far back as spring training, viewing him as a liability.”

Those comments about Youkilis not being “physically or emotionally into the game” from April sure take on a different feeling now, don’t they?

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If the Red Sox do want to trade Youkilis, it won’t be simple. A contending team may want to add Youkilis, considering his contract is up at the end of the year (with a club option for 2013), but the common belief is that he’ll need to play for the Red Sox to prove he’s healthy and can still hit. Rosenthal confirmed those beliefs, while adding that some teams wouldn’t take Youkilis even if he came at no cost.

“The first [GM] said that he would need to see Youkilis play for an extended period before determining whether his team had interest, citing Youkilis’ declining offense, defense and health,” Rosenthal reported. “The second said he would not claim Youkilis and the approximately $9 million remaining on his contract if the Red Sox released the veteran tomorrow, calling it ‘a boatload’ of money for a player who is 33 and losing mobility.”

Rosenthal said that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is “caught in the middle,” adding that he’d likely need to send Middlebrooks down to the minors in order to buy some time to let a market for Youkilis develop.

Rosenthal also reported the Reds, Phillies, Dodgers, Indians, White Sox, Angels and Orioles as teams that could come calling for Youkilis’ services.

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