The Red Sox aren't ready to give up on Will Middlebrooks just yet. That's what Pete Abraham has heard from inside sources, and frankly, that comes as no surprise.
It's not because Will Middlebrooks has performed in any way deserving of another shot. A poor 2013 season featuring one small BABIP-fueled bright spot towards the end of the year has given way to a somehow far worse 2014. Middlebrooks has hit .191/.256/.265 in 234 plate appearances for the Red Sox and only .231/.277/.375 in his time down in Pawtucket. He's not the worst offensive player in baseball (congratulations, Michael Choice!), but he's in the bottom 30 by Fangraphs' valuations, coming in nearly a win below the value of the "replacement player" standard.
No, the reason it's not surprising is because the Red Sox have been oddly invested in Middlebrooks even to this point. There are interesting players like Garin Cecchini who could be starting every game in place of Middlebrooks, but Cecchini has had just seven at bats in the past week while Middlebrooks has had 20. Then there's all the talk about plans for fall and winter leagues. This is not the standard routine for failed prospects. Lars Anderson's fall plans never received any real press. The ever-injured Ryan Kalish just faded into the background.
For better or for worse, this does not seem like the Red Sox are just playing nice with Middlebrooks until they cut him loose. It seems as though they actually have plans for him in 2015.
As Abraham points out, that's actually a relatively low-cost risk for the Sox. Middlebrooks has an option left by virtue of never actually being sent down to Pawtucket in 2014--his time there was the result of rehab appearances, however tricky the Red Sox had to get to make it work out that way--meaning that the Sox don't have to worry about his impact on an already crowded 25-man roster. And while the Sox do have some players to protect ahead of the 2014 Rule 5 draft, there's plenty of players who could be dumped ahead of Middlebrooks.
Still, the question must be asked: why bother? We're three years into his career now, and Will Middlebrooks hasn't been that good past those first couple months of it. We weren't still talking about Nick Green two years after he started his Red Sox career with a bang. We probably won't be talking about Brock Holt after 2015 if he hits .219/.278/.271 as he did in his last 45 games of the season.
Frankly, it seems like the Red Sox are paranoid. Abraham says the Red Sox are afraid of Middlebrooks reaching his potential elsewhere, and I'm sure every last one of us can just picture him in an Athletics uniform hitting 30 homers next year alongside Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, and Jed Lowrie. The Sox have been burned before, and honestly, Middlebrooks is hardly an unlikely candidate to burn them again if they let him go. He does have the kind of huge power that's hard to find in the league these days, and he was proving quite adept at using it right up until he broke his wrist. That's the sort of injury that can take its toll for quite a while after it's considered "healed." Just look at David Ortiz' issues from 2008-2009, all stemming from that click in his wrist.
The Red Sox can't go into 2015 with Will Middlebrooks as their primary option at third base. Especially not after a year as poor as 2014. This is not a team which can sell its fanbase on entering spring training with no plans to contend, and no plans to contend can be considered complete while a player who has struggled as mightily as Middlebrooks is set to be the starting third baseman. With so many players fighting for space on the 25-man, there might not even be a spot for Middlebrooks in Boston.
But with so little to lose and a small, small chance to gain quite a bit, there's no reason for the Red Sox to call it quits on Will Middlebrooks. Even if they don't really have all that much faith in him.