Ask Nick: Can Middlebrooks play shortstop?

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There were a lot of inquiries this week about the Red Sox dealing Kevin Youkilis, but that’s jumping the gun.

First of all, Youkilis has to be completely healthy and show he’s completely healthy by playing. Even though there’s a great need for third basemen around baseball, nobody’s going to make a deal for a player who has recurring injuries. And while much of Red Sox Nation likes Will Middlebrooks and his upside, he will have his moments, like Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, when he will struggle because he’s a rookie.


The longer Middlebrooks is around, the longer scouting reports will be formulated on him and teams will exploit his weaknesses. Having said that, every time it looks as if Middlebrooks will start to turn South, he has a good game. The kid wants to be a player and I think he is a legitimate one.

The more pressing question is when Youkilis returns Monday in Baltimore, does he go right back into the starting lineup? That’s what we’re all waiting for.

Here’s the mailbag:

Has any thought been given to moving Middlebrooks to shortstop (his original position) upon the return of Youkilis to the lineup? I know that this means putting Aviles on the bench, but wouldn’t this be a better move than sending Middlebrooks back to Pawtucket?
Bob, Westfield, Mass.
Haven’t heard that one. They moved Middlebrooks to third because they felt he was getting too big and he wasn’t quick enough to handle it. I would think not.

With Adrian Gonzalez preparing to play right field in interleague games, has any thought been given to continuing this and playing Youkilis at first? Coupling Youk and Middlebrooks with Ortiz and AGon sounds great from a lineup-lengthening standpoint.
Alan, Newport, RI
Good idea except Ortiz would have to play first base in order to get him into the lineup in the NL city.


What is the status update for Carl Crawford?
Bruce, Gray, Maine
Very conservative. He’s on the 60-day DL so this will take some time. I think he may be swinging a bat soon and then lightly start throwing.

I know Daniel Bard is learning how to go deeper into games, relying on his secondary pitches and easing his fastball to 92-93 mph, but it seems he has been unable to put away batters and failing to get the strikeout when needed. Maybe if he dialed up the fastball on occasion it would actually have the effect of limiting his pitches by shortening at-bats and then extending his outings. Your thoughts?
Joe, Wantagh, NY
That makes sense. I think he’s feeling his way through things to see what works and what doesn’t. He’s not striking people out anymore, but he’s getting outs. It’s a good experiment, but I’ve always been on record as having him stay in the bullpen and I still believe that’s the best use of him for this year. In the future I think he will be a long-term starter.

Click the Full Entry button for more Q&A

Is Ryan Kalish’s career on track in any way?
Michael, Worcester, Mass.
I think Ryan is getting closer to playing. A few more weeks and he should back at it and then have to work his way back. The Red Sox miss his energy and athleticism.

Do you think the Sox will get it together and make the playoffs or do you think they’re done for this year?
Raymond, Walnut, Calif.
I go back and forth on whether I think they’ll make the postseason. The one good thing is that everyone is likely to stay bunched up in the AL East, but I’m not sure if the second wild card will come from there or not. I think once they get all of their guys back — Ellsbury, Crawford, Youkilis, Bailey and Dice-K — they’ll be a much better team.


Everyone is pointing at the pitching staff as the primary reason for the decline of the Red Sox since last year. I believe the reason is not having catcher Jason Varitek.
Bill, Wakefield, Mass.
Some of the experts I quoted in my Sunday Baseball Notes column last Sunday agree with you. I still believe it’s the pitchers themselves. They have ultimate control over the situation.

Once Dice-K comes back, Bard needs to move to the pen. He doesn’t have the control, repertoire, nor stamina to start, and we need a closer.
Ethan, Westport, Conn.
I agree on the bullpen part, but I think Bard is going to be a very good starting pitcher.

I think the catcher has a lot to do with a pitcher’s success, and I’ve been pointing out Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s failure to set his glove up as a target for the pitcher. The last game he did so for Clay, so I’m hoping someone on the staff has got him to correct this deficiency permanently.
Jarl, Luray, Va.
I think Ryan Lavarnway will be up before the All-Star break. I think the fact the Washington Nationals are looking for a catcher and have been watching Boston’s backstops, could lead to something.

Josh Beckett has never been one of my favorite Red Sox, but should the “nation” cut him some slack on golf gate? I seem to remember reading many Sox fans screaming for Aaron Cook to be called up, so is there a chance Beckett took one for the team here? He pitched a long outing and could be skipped (for rest) to give the excuse to bring Cook up.
Pete, New Jersey
Don’t think skipping Beckett had anything to do with giving Cook a start. Bobby Valentine thought Beckett needed to be skipped because of the lat strain and I believe that. The reason I believe it is that you would never skip your best or second best starter for a fifth starter. I think Cook will help this team when he returns. As for Beckett playing golf, I don’t care how you spin it, he shouldn’t have played. As a firefighter wrote to me during that fiasco, if he had called in sick and was seen on the golf course, he would have been fired.

I think that Kevin Youkilis has become a liability for the Sox. He accused Ellsbury of dogging it a while back. I think he should be traded. Your thoughts?
Bill, Braintree, Mass.
Youkilis wasn’t alone in getting on Ellsbury at the time. Ellsbury had a reputation of spending way too much time in the trainer’s room, and then he didn’t stay with the team. So I’m not going to get on Youkilis for that,. If you think Middlebrooks is better, if you think Middlebrooks is the long-term answer, that would be the reason to deal Youkilis. The other reason would be to get something of value back.

What’s your opinion on this possible trade: Youkilis to the A’s for Coco Crisp?
Mark, Lynn, Mass.
I would love to stay away from injury-prone players. The Red Sox have enough of them and Coco Crisp is very injury prone. And he wasn’t crazy about playing in Boston.

Colin Cowherd commented that he thought the Red Sox may be the least talented team in the American League East. What do you think?
Tom, Buffalo, NY
If you’re talking about now without Youkilis, Crawford, Ellsbury, and Bailey, you can make a case. If you have those guys back, no way.

Who is the player that would net the Sox the most value/help if traded? In my opinion, it’s not Youk, it’s Gonzalez. Maybe to the Braves, Dodgers or Giants? What do you think?
David, Reno, Nev.
The Adrian Gonzalez point is interesting, but you know how that goes. It’s a big contract. Eliminate the Braves right away. They’re not going to spend that kind of money and they have Freddy Freeman. The Giants and Dodgers are plausible, but I doubt the Red Sox are thinking this way.

When are they going to fire Valentine and get someone who knows how to manage a major league team? He doesn’t protect his players, he cowers when having to face an umpire’s questionable call, his press conferences are lame – he is not the answer.
Chris, Pawcatuck, Conn.
He’s been a big league manager for 16 years, so I think he knows how to manage a team. He has to protect his players? From what? Do we have to hear how great someone pitched when he’s gotten shelled? Do we have to hear lies about players because their feelings might get hurt? This is the problem with baseball. You want the players to run the show. And you know something? You’re getting your wish. You really wanted Dale Svuem? As for pitching coach Bob McClure, he was Ben Cherington’s choice, not Valentine?s.

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