Sunday Mail: Can Will Middlebrooks Fix His Flaws and Fulfill His Promise With the Padres?

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No messing around today. Gotta start my Christmas shopping. So let’s get straight to the mail…

Assuming his wrist doesn’t implode during the physical, your Will Middlebrooks Sawx Days eulogy?

Well, ultimately disappointing, obviously. It’s a story of unfulfilled promise. When the Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox on June 24, 2012, Middlebrooks had played 41 games in the majors. In those 41 games, he put up a .326/.365/.583 slash line with nine home runs and 10 doubles in 144 plate appearances. That came after a sizzling start in Pawtucket (.333/.380/.677 with nine homers in 100 plate appearances). He was 23 then, third base belonged to him, and he seemed destined to be a Red Sox hot-corner cornerstone for the next half-dozen or so seasons.

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Why didn’t it happen? It wasn’t just one thing, though sliders away, a dastardly pitch he still has not solved (or hit to right field) were a major reason. Pitchers found his weakness, and he did not counter. Injuries are a legitimate reason There was a perception that he carried himself like his promise had been fulfilled in his own mind before it ever happened on the field, which may have led to stubbornness when the Red Sox requested he work on certain weaknesses. But mostly: sliders.

His power was startlingly absent last year, with just two homers in 234 plate appearances. Maybe he’ll find it in San Diego, and maybe the Red Sox sold low, though Ryan Hanigan is a perfect complement to Christian Vazquez behind the plate. But he ain’t that young anymore — he’s less than two years younger than Pablo Sandoval, and older than Rick Porcello — and if he’s ever going to become anything more than a poor man’s Steve Buechele, the time is now.

Just for the sake of baseball talk, did you hear how there is another player besides Middlebrooks entering a third full year, long and lanky build, has shown power, but has trouble against sliders, being traded to San Diego recently? I hadn’t ever figured there to be similarities between Wil Myers and Middlebrooks, and found it interesting once alerted.
— Andy W.

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That’s a good point, Andy. Myers, who is two years younger than Middlebrooks, is at a similar point to where the latter was two seasons ago. He’s had some successes and failures, he’s a little bit beyond a hand/wrist injury, and there’s a perception that maybe he took his early success for granted.

By the way, as fun as it has been to watch A.J. Preller put together a big-name outfield in the matter of a couple of days, I’m not convinced that Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Myers will be teammates come opening day. There’s nothing resembling a center fielder in the group, and my theory is that Myers, who is cost-controlled through 2017, will be part of a package to acquire a pitcher, perhaps San Diego native Cole Hamels. As compelling as that outfield is on paper, on the grass of Petco Field it would be a defensive disaster.

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Chad, I don’t understand the people who can’t grasp the concept that while Rondo is a first-class PLAYER, he is not a first-class TRADE CHIP due to his age, health, contract, and relative abundance of point guards…I think all things being equal, the Celtics did as well as they could do
— Warrior

Well-said. I also believe a lot of the people ripping on the trade don’t pay much more than cursory attention to the NBA, probably haven’t seen Brandan Wright since he was at UNC, have no clue he’s shooting 74 percent this season, and certainly are a oblivious to the possibilities that $12.9 million trade exception opens up. I mean, I suspect there are people around here, people paid for their sports opinions, who upon taking a first look at the trade thought Jameer Nelson — a familiar, fading player — was the second-most interesting part of the Celtics’ haul after adding another first-round pick. And Nelson is easily the least-interesting part of the trade. This deal has revealed some folks’ lack of knowledge on this league, not that they know that they’ve been exposed.

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What will it take to get Jonas Gray out of the dog house completely?
— jsvalen

A game against, say, the Jets at 1 p.m. today ought to do the trick. Actually, the Jets have one of the better run defenses in the league, allowing 87.5 rushing yards per game. That trails only the Lions, Broncos and Ravens. But with LeGarrette Blount out with a shoulder injury, Gray will get his most opportunities since his four-TD breakout against the Colts on November 16. This is all presuming he has purchased a decent alarm clock in the last month.

Hey Chad — huge fan of Toucher and Rich but really can’t stand Jon Wallach. I think he’s annoying and doesn’t bring much to the table. I get that he’s in there to bring some sports knowledge/credibility, but his takes are predictable, bland, and seemingly lazy. What’s his reputation around the business, and have you heard any whispers that they may look to replace him?
— Drew

Harsh, but yeah, he’s not winning many sports debates. I don’t think they’d look to replace him, and I wouldn’t say they should. His willingness to be the butt of some jokes helps his cause. But for someone who was brought in to bolster the show’s overall sports knowledge, he doesn’t really have … a whole lot of sports knowledge. It’s amazing how often he’s stumped when he’s asked a general sports question in the flow of conversation.

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Why the rush to make Mookie Betts a starter, especially in the already crowded outfield? Let him progress naturally in Pawtucket… that would be at least one less body fighting for a spot. And it give Shane Victorino a change to reclaim his spot in RF.
— Guest

Because by all indications, Betts is ready and has a chance to be a dynamic player immediately, maybe even as the leadoff hitter.

Let’s look at what he’s done since his promotion to High A Salem a little past the midway point of the 2013 season:

Salem ’13: .333/.380/.677, 22 extra-base hits, 20 steals in 51 games.

Portland ’14: .355/.443/.551 27 extra-base hits, 22 steals in 54 games.

Pawtucket ’14: .335/.417/.503, 19 extra-base hits, 11 steals in 45 games.

Red Sox ’14: .291/.368 /.444, 18 extra-base hits, 7 steals in 52 games.

And remember: he’s just 22, and he’s already shown a knack for adjusting after slow starts. He’s earned the chance and then some. It makes no sense to stash someone who has seized every opportunity along the way in the minors just because of a roster crunch.

Any idea if, for lack of a better term, broadcast team “ranks” can change from year to year? Much prefer Eagle/Fouts over Nantz,/Simms, probably a bit pie-in-the sky to hope they change positions next year?
— Tony Bourdain, one of the greats

The networks usually announce their announcer pairings in late August, and CBS is one network that does rank them in a particular order. Eagle and Fouts — a tandem I like a lot, and not just because of my Air Coryell bias — got moved up to the No. 2 team this year. Previously it had been Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf, the latter of whom retired after the 2013 season. Gumbel is now on the No. 3 team with Trent Green. I can’t see CBS ever moving Nantz, but a change with Simms sometime over the next couple of years wouldn’t surprise me. He’s slipped a lot. Maybe he hasn’t been the same since this:

Until next week, the Mailbox is closed. Exit music, please:

Not quite as tense as the Boogie Nights version, when Alfred Molina looks like a dead-ringer for 1981 Keith Hernandez and Cosmo is chucking the firecrackers.

And just because they were so great, Siskel and Ebert’s take on Boogie Nights.

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