FanPost

Stuck in the Middle-Brooks

On a warm, spring May day in Rochester, NY, I donned my Red Sox hat and began watching ESPN highlights from the night before. Among them were the 2012 Red Sox, already in dismay after hiring Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox were struggling to find an identity as a team, and star third baseman Kevin Youkilis was battling injuries. In come third base prospect from Texas, Will Middlebrooks. Through his first 38 games, Middlebrooks had 31 RBI and looked like a star in the making. I immediately ran to my computer and searched "Will Middlebrooks Jersey", as I wanted to brag to my Yankee fan friends that the Sox had the superstar in the making. The results were slim, but I managed to find a navy blue t-shirt with "Middlebrooks" and his rookie #64 printed across the back.

The rookie sensation went on to hit .288 with 15 homers before his season was ended due to a broken wrist, but while playing, he looked like the anchor of the lineup for years to come. Then 2013 came. Middlebrooks was poised to have a breakout year and establish himself as a force in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. But after a lower back strain, Middlebrooks lost his job and was sent to Triple-A. The third basemen came back and, while losing playing time to Xander Bogaerts, finished the year with 17 homers while batting .227. 2014 was more of the same. After a hot spring, Middlebrooks battled injuries and was ultimately sent to Triple-A, and finished the year hitting .192 with only two homers in 63 games.

Big Signings

It appears the Red Sox are giving up on the once prized third basemen, as the team has signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

Xander Bogaerts is entrenched at shortstop after his struggles when shifting to third base last season, which means Hanley has to make a move to the already crowded outfield. The Kung-Fu Panda will take over every day duties at third, and will occasionally DH, which basically puts Middlebrooks in limbo.

Change of Heart

After two unfortunate injury riddled seasons for Middlebrooks, is it fair to invest $100 million for Pablo Sandoval, a career .294 hitter, who hasn't hit more than 20 homers since 2011?

The Red Sox have been wary of big free agent signings after the Carl Crawford debacle, so why would they sign Ramirez and Sandoval?

Red Sox third basemen hit a combined .211 last year with an OPS of .580. Sure, this is enough for concern, but why not give Middlebrooks another shot and try to trade for a third basemen mid-season? The Red Sox have a plethora of prospects who could yield a great return.

It wasn't just third base that struggled for the Sox during 2014. The entire team struggled to score, averaging just south of four runs per game for the entire season. That's a far cry for the team that lit up opposing pitchers night after night in 2013.

Offseason of Hope

Before the season ended, Red Sox brass presented the idea of playing winter ball to Middlebrooks, in hopes of righting the many wrongs in his game. After two injury filled seasons, Middlebrooks was weary and ultimately declined, choosing to workout in Dallas instead. The move should prove to be a wise one, but one that may have cost the third baseman his job.

The Red Sox are happy with the strides Middlebrooks has made in his defense at third base, much improved from the infamous highlights of Valentine mocking him after a misplay. Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, Sandoval will now be entrenched at the hot corner, so a position change may be in order.

But where else can Middlebrooks play?

The most logical solution seems to be to move the third baseman to the outfield, but with six players already competing for three positions, that move seems illogical.

Another solution is to train the 6'3" Middlebrooks at first base, and allow him to take the full time job next season when Mike Napoli's contract is up, but if Napoli produces like he usually does, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Red Sox resign the fan favorite.

The only other place Middlebrooks can play is DH, but like with first base, that's not a possibility in 2015. David Ortiz has said he won't have a retirement tour like Derek Jeter, but at 38, no one knows how much longer Big Papi can keep playing.

Stuck

While a position change could be exactly what Middlebrooks needs, his time with the Red Sox may be coming to an end. The unfortunate truth is that the Red Sox no longer need Middlebrooks. With Sandoval the third baseman of the future, and Brock Holt as a super utility man, there is simply nowhere for Middlebrooks to play in the majors.

A move to the minor leagues seems on the horizon for the third baseman, but the Red Sox can't keep him down for long. A now beloved figure in Boston for promoting the phrase "Boston Strong" after the horrific events at the Boston Marathon in 2013, a trade would be upsetting, but would be the best solution for his career.

We'll know Middlebrooks' future soon, and no matter what happens, on that next warm, spring day, I'll be donning my Middlebrooks shirt.