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What should the Red Sox do with Will Middlebrooks?

Posted by Adam Kaufman  November 14, 2013 02:15 AM

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Will Middlebrooks 2.jpg

Red Sox manager (should have been Manager of the Year) John Farrell has publicly acknowledged his desire to have veteran Stephen Drew back in Boston.

However, a report surfaced on Wednesday that the feeling isnít mutual on account of what the soon-to-be handsomely-paid free agent shortstop may receive on the open market.

For fans and media clamoring for Xander Bogaerts to get his everyday turn at short in 2014, thatís good news, but itís far from official.

Should Drew fail to obtain what his agent, Scott Boras, believes is available to him, either in terms of years or dollars, the door surely isnít closed on a homecoming at the Fens. Somehow, in the face of all the adversity that existed from the moment another Drew wearing the number 7 arrived in Fort Myers, J.D.ís younger brother managed to enjoy his time with the Red Sox. That whole winning a World Series thing probably had a bit to do with it.

But, if Drew returns and Bogaerts suddenly becomes Bostonís third baseman, what happens to Will Middlebrooks?

First base, for a number of reasons, isnít the preferred option.

For starters, the team wants (as it should) to re-sign Mike Napoli. Given how many local sporting events heís attended since the Duck Boat Parade, the bearded slugger seems to genuinely feel the same way. Somewhere, bar patrons are raising their glasses in agreement.

Second to that, Middlebrooks has only played the position one time in his two-year major league career, and not once in six minor league seasons.

ďHaving a young third baseman with Willís ability, power, athleticism, ability on both sides of the ball is a really important thing for the organization,Ē general manager Ben Cherington said earlier this month. ďI think you only consider moving someone like that off a spot if itís driven by the need of the team, and weíre not there yet. We see Will as a third baseman, and thatís certainly what heíll be focused on this offseason.Ē

So what do you do with him?

First instinct: Donít give up on himÖ

Middlebrooks is a power-hitting righthander Ė not something the Sox have a surplus of, especially if Napoli does leave. Heís amassed 32 home runs, 32 doubles, and 103 RBI in 169 career big league contests. Essentially, thatís one full season. He also strikes out in bunches (once every 3.7 at-bats) and walks very infrequently (once every 20 plate appearances). Together, thatís 5.1 wiffs per free base. Not the Soxí model for plate discipline.

There was a point in time, as a 23-year-old rookie in 2012, when he had the look of a surefire cornerstone franchise player for years to come. He burst onto the scene with 15 homers and 54 RBI, plus a .288/.325/.509 slash line in only 75 games. The early returns quickly made fan-favorite Kevin Youkilis expendable.

The problem was that sophomore slump. His .227 average and .696 OPS in 94 games last season marked a stark drop from his first campaign, though he still managed 17 long-balls (third on the team) and 49 RBI. Those numbers, though, were sandwiched around a lengthy demotion to Triple-A. While in Pawtucket, Middlebrooks appeared in 45 games and hit .268 with 10 homers and a .790 OPS, but he also displayed some issues with entitlement.

Fortunately, once he finally did earn his way back to the majors, the former fifth-rounder was considerably better in August and September before flaming out again in October. In Middlebrooksí 10 playoff contests, he batted just .160 (4-for-25) with one RBI and a .490 OPS. As a result, he lost his job prior to the World Series and was limited to two plate appearances and a game-ending obstruction call in that final round.

Thereís a lot of raw power and promise in this kidís future, but he is still so young and inconsistent that even the Red Sox donít know who the real Will Middlebrook is yet.

Since he wonít be a free agent before the 2019 season, they should take the time to find out.

Second thought: ÖUnless itís for the right deal.

With some turnover expected in their outfield this season, itís hard to imagine the Sox not at least inquiring about the services of Miami stud Giancarlo Stanton Ė if they havenít already.

Giancarlo Stanton 2.jpg

I wrote back in July that there was only one player in baseball for whom it would have been worth surrendering Bogaerts at the trade deadline, and thatís Stanton. Heís the real deal, proven, powerful, and young.

In four major league seasons, admittedly a little hampered by injury, the righthanded-hitting rightfielder has batted .265 with 117 home runs, 294 RBI, and an .889 OPS. Oh, and he just turned 24 last week.

Middlebrooks is 25.

Whoever owns Stantonís services has him under control for at least the next three seasons at reasonable dollars. Of course, trading for that production would require a haul, and Middlebrooks would likely be part of the package. Talented youth on the cheap screams Marlins, a team with no interest in taking on substantial salaries. Plus, the Fish have already acknowledged they like him, even if they claim Stantonís unavailable.

Other viable deals could also present themselves elsewhere, as long as the return is significant.

You have to give something to get something, and Middlebrooks could absolutely fetch some significant value. Some players are worth letting go while still wondering what their ceilings will be, and heís no exception.

In the meantime, the possibilities swirl.

Should both Drew and Napoli re-sign, unlikely as that is, that would leave Middlebrooks on an island as a man without a position. Without Drew, he should play his natural third base. No Napoli, and Boston may need his strong swing in the lineup wherever it makes the most sense on a night-to-night basis.

This much is certain: Whether at third, first, or with another club, the only place Middlebrooks shouldnít be next season is on the Red Sox bench.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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