It's not hard to understand why Will Middlebrooks is well-liked in Boston - he is forever linked with the 2013 team, even if his on-field contributions were ultimately marginal; that is to say, it is hard for someone sent to AAA in June for two months to be more associated with such a crazy team, absent an unquestionably signature moment. Of course, it is precisely this type of story that made 2013 great, so it is possible I am using somewhat circular logic, but I think that's appropriate for Middlebrooks. We ultimately like him because he likes us -- which is why we like him, and so on until we're sick of it.
As Middlebrooks heads to the disabled list with a finger injury, it seems that Red Sox fans have started to adapt to the idea that his time in Boston may be coming to an end, and it's hard not to agree. It is not for lacking of trying or even progress, for that matter, but it is the totality of the injuries and the realities of the business. The Red Sox have publicly stated they want to keep Middlebrooks around, and the team is so careful with the ostensibly damning vote of confidence that I actually tend to believe them, especially in light of his association with #bostonstrong. They will cross the bridge with Middlebrooks when they get there. Are they there?
Not yet. They can see the bridge now, for sure, and are shuffling about the rental car for the EZ-Pass. If the injury lingers, I could see him being shipped off at the shore before the Red Sox move on to next season, if not merely left at the side of the road, all potential, smiles and an outstretched thumb. Someone will take him if the Red Sox decide to take this route, but it may be years before he emerges as a regular major league baseball player.
I'm pretty sure about this. He's got great power and this year he finally showed a command of the strike zone, doubling his walk rate before the injury destroyed his power and approach, which I'm tempted to forgive. Learning the strike zone on the fly is incredibly difficult, and I'm impressed with anyone who seems to do it. It's much easier to add power to a good eye - but power has never been Middlebrooks' problem, nor has pretty much anything else on the playing field. He was a Texas high school quarterback, not to mention ace of a state-championship winning baseball team; in my dreams, Will Middlebrooks becomes a closer or knuckleballer, and the best hitting one ever.
This is unlikely, insofar as it always is, but I think his athletic skill, combined with both a desire and ability to improve, is why the Red Sox have publicly backed the idea of keeping him. He hadn't done anything wrong to that point, is what they were really saying, and while he still hasn't done anything wrong, he hasn't done much right, from a bottom-line standpoint, and the window may be starting to close.
It was a big enough window for a comet to pass through; we thought, two years ago, that Middlebrooks would be the regular third baseman for the foreseeable future, and he didn't disappoint, putting up nearly 2 WAR at age 23. Not bad! The problem with those two WAR is that he was merely winning the battles, the ones against injury and scrutiny and the hexing force of Bobby Valentine. The attrition of both his minor league pitch recognition skills and his body had begun, and, like many, it appears he will need more time to recover.
I think we're ready to let him recover, and I think part of that means leaving Boston, sadly. But the fact a comet has passed makes it no less luminous, or awe-inspiring. As the light and life of the 2013 season fade entirely, the inevitable departure of players like Middlebrooks will only serve to remind us just how great it really was.