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Red Sox should leave winter ball decision to Will Middlebrooks

The Red Sox are pressuring a reluctant Will Middlebrooks to play in a winter league. But should they just let their third baseman have his way?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox may not be ready to call it quits with Will Middlebrooks just yet, but that doesn't mean that all is well between Boston and their young third baseman. Sean McAdam makes a pretty strong case that there's "trouble brewing" in Fenway, citing some comments made by manager John Farrell Wednesday night. Of particular note, this one on Middlebrooks' health:

"I don't think he's been limited any (more) than other players that deal with nagging ailments over the course of a full season,'' said Farrell. "There's been times when he's been unavailable, but to say it's been to the extent where he can't go, or can't play...we're not at that point.

It might not leap off the page as a sign of trouble, but when taken in context, it says quite a bit more.

The Red Sox want Will Middlebrooks to play winter ball in an attempt to find whatever it is he's lost between now and 2012, when he hit .288/.325/.509 in an impressive rookie campaign cut short by a broken wrist. Will Middlebrooks, on the other hand, wants to take the offseason, well, off in an attempt to get back to full health headed into 2015.

Clearly, though, if you ask John Farrell, there's nothing so wrong with Middlebrooks that he shouldn't be able to get his hacks in over the winter. That seems to be the stance of the organization as a whole, too, given that we keep hearing how frustrated they are with their third baseman.

Given Middlebrooks' struggles at the plate, it can be awfully tempting to just side with the Red Sox as a matter of course here. Something's clearly not going right, and crying injury two years after the actual incident in question isn't exactly the most persuasive of excuses both for his past performance and his reluctance to play winter ball.

Let's take a step back here, though, and consider things from Middlebrooks' perspective. Because when we do that...well, it's hard to see where the Red Sox are coming from, exactly. Both sides clearly have the same ultimate goal: they want Will Middlebrooks to be a productive player. But let's look at the level of investment from both sides here. For the Red Sox, Middlebrooks is basically a sunk cost with relatively low expectations. If they can get him right again, the upside is fairly high, but they're probably already building their 2015 team under the expectation that he will not be a contributor.

For Middlebrooks, this is a career we're talking about. He's already made some money, sure, but the difference between a long career as an MLB regular and one that ends without a significant free agent payday is massive. It's safe to say that Will Middlebrooks has a lot more on the line here than the Red Sox. It's also safe to say that, if anyone knows whether or not Middlebrooks needs time off to get himself physically right, it's the man himself.

The Red Sox have fought this fight before. They've insisted they knew the physical condition of their players better than the players in question. Sure, when we're talking about a veteran with a lengthy contract already in their pocket, there might be some reason to suspect they're just being lazy and uncooperative.

But in a situation like Middlebrooks', when the player has so very much to lose or gain over the course of the next year, it might make sense to differ to their personal judgement on what's most likely to get them to where they need to be. This may not be a Jacoby Ellsbury situation with an MRI bombshell waiting down the line, but the premise isn't that far off, either. If Will thinks he needs time off, let him have the time off, and do it with some grace so that, if he does put it all together in 2015, he'll still actually want to stay in Boston.