The Obstruction of Potential: The Play That Derailed Two Careers

Even with unrivaled success this millennia, Boston fans do not often forget those times that did not go right for them. They never forget that which went horribly wrong, even if it was corrected in the end.

The 2013 World Series championship was unforgettable for Boston and the city’s baseballObstruction fans. When seemingly everything went right for the Red Sox that year, there was a moment in that World Series where it looked like it would all fall apart. There was one moment where Red Sox nation felt like Raiders fans after the Tuck Rule in 2001. That one moment did not necessarily damn the series, but it could have damned two once-promising MLB careers.

Late in Game Three, St. Louis’s Allen Craig came around third after an overthrow. After tripping over third baseman Will Middlebrooks, he came around to score the winning run via an obstruction call. If not for the call, Craig would have been out by five feet, but alas the Cardinals suddenly had a 2-1 series lead.  While the call had Bostonians up in arms, the Red Sox won the next three games to claim their eighth world championship. The obstruction could be seen; the downward spiral of the two players’ careers could not.

Allen Craig’s Downfall

At the 2014 trade deadline, these two teams were heading in opposite directions. With St. Louis making a playoff push, they traded Craig along with Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for John Lackey. Craig was under team control for three and a half more years with a club option for 2018. He was definitely one of the hardest hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only thing Craig hit in Boston (and Pawtucket) was a wall.

In 29 games with Boston in 2014, he hit a brutal .128 with a whopping two RBI, enough to send the biggest optimists into a fit of pure rage. 2015 was not much better. He hit .152 in 36 games, but surpassed his RBI total of 2014, churning out three. Since then, he’s gotten to know Pawtucket better than their own mayor. This past season, he appeared in 22 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, raking to the tune of a .173 average and slugging .250 along with his one homer and six RBI.

In 2013, Craig had 97 RBI for the Cardinals. In the two and a half seasons since that he’s been with the Red Sox, he has 41 split between his time in Boston and Pawtucket. The Red Sox will undoubtedly not pick up his option after this year and will owe him 13 million dollars in 2018. To call Craig a disappointment would be an insult to all the disappointments who never got a hug from their dad. Craig was a catastrophic failure.

The Drop-Off of Will Middlebrooks

The road for Will Middlebrooks since earning a ring has not been much friendlier. He broke out in 2012 where he hit 15 homers in his first big league season. His average subsequently dipped from .288 to .227 in 2013. Middlebrooks made it through the 2014 season with Boston, hitting .191 with two homers in 63 games. In December of that year, he was traded to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan. As bad as Hanigan was the past two seasons, it is really tough to decipher who won that deal.

In 2015, Middlebrooks appeared in 83 games for the Padres when he hit .212 with a .224 OBP. That production on a last place team earned him a trip to Milwaukee in free agency. On a Brewers team that went 73-89, Middlebrooks only earned 27 at-bats in 10 games, hitting .111. This offseason, he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers, making him a member of four different organizations in the four years since the 2013 World Series title.

Postlude

As bad as those two guys have been since then, there are still people involved in this infamous play who have been nearly as disappointing. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw the ball away to allow Craig to score, has been with three teams since then. His highest batting average since has been .225. Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, is most famous for that and blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. He retired unceremoniously this offseason.

Times like these remind us there is nothing promised in this game. Craig was the x-factor of the 2013 World Series and now he’s struggling for playing time in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks was a budding slugger who has been in and out of the minors. While the obstruction call ended up not having a huge impact on the series, it drastically altered not just a runner’s path to home plate, but also two once-promising MLB careers.

Sox Trade For Tyler Thornburg

The Red Sox, amid plenty of rumors for deals and signings, finally made a move Tuesday. The move was not earth-shattering, but it certainly tells a lot about the 2017 team. The Red Sox acquired Tyler Thornburg, a late-inning reliever from the Milwaukee Brewers. In return, they sent two prospects, IF Mauricio Dubon and P Josh Pennington to Milwaukee. The final piece to the deal was fan-favorite Travis Shaw, whose offensive numbers declined every month of the 2016 season.

Dave Dombrowski added some bullpen depth, but this also raises plenty of questions. ThornburgFirst off, who is Tyler Thornburg and what is his role? Thornburg is fireballer who was both a set-up man and closer for the Brewers last season. In 2016, he earned 13 saves after Jeremy Jeffress was traded and had a 2.15 ERA and a WHIP of 0.94 in 67 innings. With Dombrowski wanting a closer-type to set-up Craig Kimbrel, Thornburg fits the mold. That almost certainly sends free agents Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler packing.

With the acquisition of Thornburg, Carson Smith may be the odd man out. After undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the long-awaited return to Boston may never come. Smith has had an injury history in the past and Thornburg seems like a carbon copy. He fills the same role as Smith with the same arsenal. Coincidentally, Thornburg has also had elbow problems like Smith as well.

This trade can also shake up the future of the starting rotation. Not that Josh Pennington was a serious pitching prospect, but he’s gone now. That means they will probably pursue a big-time starter in free agency next year. The 2018 free-agent class is star-studded, with the likes of Kershaw, Bumgarner, Arrieta, Darvish, Tanaka, Sale (tentatively), Tillman and Cueto on the market. The Red Sox will hope to make a big splash there, as their pitching prospects are fading fast.

Thornburg Trade’s Impact on Third Base

Finally, this leave’s Travis Shaw’s position open. The Red Sox are now faced with two options. The first is Yoan Moncada. The Minor League Player of the Year just is not ready for the big leagues as he showed in September, needing to strike out like he needed air to breathe. Moncada may be a nice option at some point, not Opening Day. That leaves Pablo Sandoval. Looking lean and fit in his recent trip to Barcelona, Sandoval looks like a new man. Assuming he didn’t gain a pound a day there, he looks ready to play third base again. Whether he can hit will be a totally different story. Right now, the Red Sox look like they are going to trust Sandoval here. Knowing Brock Holt is not an every day player, it looks like it’s Sandoval’s job once again.

So yes, this trade tells a lot about next year’s Red Sox. Dombrowski has put emphasis on a playoff caliber bullpen this year. He has now acquired a guy who was dominant in 2016 while getting rid of an empty bat in Travis Shaw. They also get him for cheap money at $513,900 and with team control through 2019. Tyler Thornburg may officially usher in the Kung-Fu Panda Era back to Boston, and isn’t that glorious news to wake up to?