All’s well that ends well, and for the Red Sox, things couldn’t possibly have ended better. But not even an endless loop of World Series highlights would obscure the fact that Will Middlebrooks had a crummy season. Pegged as a middle-of-the-order power threat after a promising rookie year, Middlebrooks got off to a slow start that was only exacerbated by a lower back strain. He was demoted to Triple A for seven weeks, and after a brief hot streak upon his return, he wound up back on the bench for the final eight postseason games. The Red Sox ranked eighth in the American League and 21st in the majors with a .683 OPS at third base, well below the league average of .738, and Middlebrooks got the majority of their at-bats at the position. His .271 on-base percentage was the worst among 30 third basemen with at least 350 plate appearances. Surely, the Sox expected so much more from the 25-year-old. And for now, they’re banking on getting it next season. “We think if we do nothing, we’ll get more out of third base than we did this year,” general manager Ben Cherington said Monday night, with Middlebrooks lingering nearby at the Wang Theatre premiere of the official 2013 World Series DVD. “That’s our hope and expectation given the players that are here.” Publicly, at least, Cherington is showing faith in Middlebrooks while also challenging him to be better. Incumbent shortstop Stephen Drew is a free agent, and if he lands the long-term contract that agent Scott Boras is pursuing, the Sox intend to replace him with 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, who displaced Middlebrooks at third during the ALCS. Team president/CEO Larry Lucchino said he’s “pretty darn confident” that both Bogaerts and touted center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. are ready to graduate full-time to the majors, while Cherington noted that the Sox “absolutely see (Bogaerts) as a shortstop, long term.” That leaves Middlebrooks at third base, barring a trade or some other change in course. Given his power potential, the Sox would have to be bowled over with a trade offer, especially considering his value is substantially lower than a year ago when he was coming off a rookie season in which he hit 15 homers in only 267 at-bats. As Cherington said after the World Series, “A lot of people, including us, were talking about him (last year) as one of the better young third basemen in the league. I don’t think that changes just because he has a bit of a down period.” If anything, Middlebrooks may have taken on too much too soon. In spring training, he expressed a desire to be a team leader, even serving as the Red Sox’ representative in the players’ union early in the season. To his credit, he was one of the more emotional and vocal players in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
Will Middlebrooks in plans for Red Sox
Boston Herald | Nov 28