The Sox really needs a middle-of-the-order righthanded bat. And that's where the struggles of Middlebrooks really hurt. Some individuals on this forum has suggested that Middlebrooks should be moved over to first base. Middlebrooks is not a first baseman.
The baseline for acceptable offensive performance at first base is so high, much higher than third base, and no one knows right now if Middlebrooks even can meet the baseline even for third.
There are several first basemen in the majors who didn't come up at first base, and the Red Sox have a black hole there in the minors for the most part.
But the guys that get moved there are the people who can't handle a different position defensively, like Jim Thome at third.
You don't move Middlebrooks there because he doesn't hit enough to be a third baseman,.
Bill James projections are notoriously optimistic.
ZIPS projected Middlebrooks to have a .292 OBP and hit 19 home runs -- and he hasn't even gotten to that.
The average American League first baseman has an OBP over .330 and an SLG of around .450.
That's the performance Middlebrooks would have to get to just to be an average first baseman offensively -- and that, incidentally, is basically what Napoli has done this year.
And you can't ignore what's happened to Middlebrooks this year.
He had 286 really good PAs in 2012, and 216 really bad PAs this year.
At this point -- and that's an important qualifier -- it would be foolhardy to go into 2014 expecting him to provide reasonable production for a first baseman.
But Middlebrooks still has a chance to turn it all around.
a. First he's young.
b. He's hitting home runs with the PawSox.
c. He works hard, and he wants to get better.
When the Red Sox let Pedroia work through his early-season struggles in 2007, they had Youkilis-Ortiz-Ramirez-Drew-Lowell hitting two through six in the order (i.e. OPSs of .843, 1.066, .881, .796, .879 that season).
I don't think the lineup this season affords them the luxury of carrying a weaker bat until it finds itself, which is one of the reasons they didn't entrust SS to Iglesias in the offseason.
There's also a big difference between the Red Sox letting Pedroia work through his struggles in April and letting Allen Webster now or Xander Bogaerts later work through struggles for a first-place team in the midst of a pennant race.
The Red Sox let Will Middlebrooks work through his struggles for even longer than they did Pedroia before they decided they had to change course.