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.

Padres Demote Will Middlebrooks to Triple-A

The career of Will Middlebrooks has taken another sour turn with the Padres demoting the third baseman to Triple-A on Wednesday as he continues to struggle at the plate.

When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval last winter, Middlebrooks spot on the roster was immediately in question. Will MiddlebrooksMiddlebrooks was traded to the Padres for Ryan Hanigan just before Christmas, in one of the smaller moves the Padres made this past winter after adding Justin Upton, Wil Myers and James Shields. Middlebrooks was the Padres Opening Day third baseman.

After making his debut with the Red Sox in 2012 the Bobby V year, Middlebrooks has not been able to make a real consistent stay in the major leagues. He claimed the third base job from Kevin Youkilis that year and was on track to be the third baseman of the Red Sox for years to come. He got hit by a pitch on his wrist late that season which cost him the rest of the season. In 2013 he was up and down with the Red Sox and even started games in the playoffs until Xander Bogaerts took over at third base, while Stephen Drew was still on the team.

In 2014 Middlebrooks was demoted to Pawtucket once the Sox signed Drew for a second time and rejoined the team after the fire sale that saw the Red Sox trade Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew. Last season with the Red Sox Middlebrooks hit a Mike Napoliesque .191 with only 2 home runs and 19 RBI. Sox brass wanted Middlebrooks to play winter ball but he declined.

With another slow start this season hitting .212 with the Padres he was demoted to El Paso after already losing his third base job to Yangervis Solarte. Middlebrooks had so much potential with the Red Sox. He had 15 home runs in his first 287 at bats in the big leagues and even hit for a decent average hitting .288. Many question the moves of Ben Cherington this past off-season but it seems the Red Sox got the better end of this deal.

Ryan Hanigan may not have been a flashy name but he is a major league catcher and the Red Sox would have forced Blake Swihart’s development even further after the injury to Christian Vasquez, something they may have done with Middlebrooks.

Why Boston Already Won the Ryan Hanigan Trade

ryan hanigan

In search of a backup catcher this off season, the Boston Red Sox did not intensely pursue David Ross, but instead they took a broken player and traded him for a defensive minded backup catcher.
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Swapping third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Hanigan, the Red Sox and Padres each filled a void on one another’s rosters, but it already looks like Boston won on the deal.

ryan haniganReceiving just what they needed, the Red Sox got a catcher to mentor rookie starter Christian Vazquez and spend a good chunk of time behind the plate. While his bat lags behind, Hanigan is excellent behind the plate as he has gunned down 38% of runners who have tried to steal off of him in his big league career. Also, he rarely boots a ball— committing just two errors in the past two seasons.
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The Andover, Massachusetts native has two more years left on his contract, but Boston has the luxury of dealing him if they are confident in top catching prospect Blake Swihart since Hanigan is relatively cheap for a veteran backup catcher.

On the other hand, Will Middlebrooks just does not have the plate discipline necessary in order to sustain a successful big league career. Striking out roughly five more times than he walks, there is no way pitchers will be able to respect Middlebrooks enough to throw him decent pitches to hit.
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He is way too aggressive at the plate and pitchers discovered his Achilles’ Heel in August 2012. Since then, he is a .212 big league hitter with an atrocious .266 OBP. No matter how many home runs he can hit, there is no way Middlebrooks will be able to sustain himself as a full-time big leaguer.

Working against Middlebrooks will be his home field disadvantage. Playing half of his games at Petco Park, the most pitcher friendly park in the league, hitting home runs will be more difficult for him than it was before. He’s not in Boston anymore.
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Middlebrooks Gone, Red Sox Get Ryan Hanigan

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In need of a backup catcher, the Boston Red Sox were able to kill two birds with one stone.
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First of all, Will Middlebrooks posed a bit of a problem for the club. He hit .254 in his first 169 big league games and smacked 32 home runs, making it clear that he was going to be one of the best power hitting third baseman in the game.

In 63 games in 2014, Middlebrooks hit just two home runs in 63 games with a dismal .256 OBP, putting his future with the Red Sox organization in peril.

Also, the Red Sox needed a backup catcher and were able to get one by trading Will Middlebrooks to the San Diego Padres. In return, the Boston Red Sox will obtain catcher Ryan Hanigan who the Padres will get in the Wil Myers deal when it is all said and done.ryan hanigan

Hanigan, who never has and most likely never will play in a big league game for the San Diego Padres, spent 2014 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and hit .218 with a .318 OBP in 84 games and clipped five home runs. It was a down year for Hanigan and the Red Sox will bank on him being better than he was this past season.
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Plate discipline has always been a big part of Hanigan’s game. He has walked 220 times and struck out on just 198 in his career, showing his knowledge of the strike zone. As a result, Hanigan puts a lot of balls in play and is good for a few sacrifice hits a season.

Defensively, Hanigan has thrown out 38% of attempted base stealers in his career and lead the league gunning down 48% in 2012 and 45% in 2013.
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Typically, Hanigan serves his team as a platoon catcher, playing more than a backup but less than a starter. Expect Red Sox rookie catcher Christian Vazquez to catch at around 60%-67% of the time next season while Hanigan will see around 33%-40% of the reps if all goes well.

Now that the Red Sox have Hanigan who is signed for the next two years, trading Blake Swihart is a definite possibility. Although many people may not want to trade him, the return would be rather large and could set the Red Sox up for a championship next season.
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The 34-year-old Hanigan is a graduate of Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts. Welcome back Ryan Hanigan, welcome back.

Should The Red Sox Pursue Pablo Sandoval This Off Season?

Pablo SandovalFor many baseball fans October 2014 has been an exhilarating time of year. However, for fans who saw their teams’ seasons end late-September, the focus is now on the upcoming offseason. The Boston Red Sox unfortunately fit in the latter category, and are consequently in full-offseason mode. But while us Red Sox fans have in mind what we would like to see on the Opening Day roster, the brasses’ projected squad likely looks entirely different, with myself (purposely) neglecting to acknowledge the all-too-real concept of an open market where Boston will have to vie against twenty-nine other teams to acquire a single piece.

So, yes, I do not know what this offseason will behold for the 2014 A.L. East cellar-dwellers. I do know, however, that there have been rumors linking the Red Sox to looming free-agent Pablo Sandoval. And, though, it is a dull time of year for Boston baseball fans, there is always something to talk about; this time around being whether or not Sandoval is the best option for the Sox at the hot corner in ’15.

Before we even begin comparing Sandoval to other potential free-agent third basemen, it is imperative that we acknowledge the Red Sox’ internal options for next season. To start, there’s Will Middlebrooks, a now-26 year-old, who has lost the ability to hit altogether, on top of sub-par defense. How much longer can Ben Cherington and Co. really be hung onto the fallacy that he will revert to his 2012-self? Hopefully not much longer.

Then, there is touted prospect Garin Cecchini who compiled an outstanding 131 wRC+ in his first and only month (so far) in the big-leagues. His minor-league track record is sterling, sans a blip in his performance in Triple-A Pawtucket this year, and you have to believe Boston will use him in some advantageous fashion in ’15 whether it be indirectly (trade) or directly.

Finally, there’s Brock Holt. He had a surprisingly delightful season this year, but his September drop-off makes him a dubious case to occupy a starting position next year.

Middlebrooks, one has to surmise, will not be on the roster next year. Yet Cecchini and Holt will be pending an unforeseen trade. Now, let’s delve into Boston’s external options, including and starting with Sandoval, for next season.

The hefty third basemen’s offense has been gradually declining each year: .909 OPS in ’11, .789 OPS in ’12, .758 OPS in ’13, and .739 OPS in ’14. He’s still an above-average offensive player in a tough hitters’ park, and, according to the metrics, holds the position down well. All said, he’s a pretty good gamble, but probably not a $100 million one.

Other market-sensible options include Chase Headley, Hanley Ramirez, and maybe Aramis Ramirez. Aramis has a mutual option in ’15, and even if it isn’t exercised the guy is entering his age-37 season. Hanley, on the other hand, can hit but is almost certainly too expensive for the Red Sox’ taste.

Finally, Headley is an intriguing case; he is a stud with the glove and has shown he can handle the stick in the past. In fact, Headley has amassed a 15.2 fWAR the past three seasons, whereas Sandoval has a 7.9 fWAR in that same time-span.

To me, there’s three sensible things the Red Sox could do: 1. Sign Headley to a multi-year deal 2. Sign Sandoval to a multi-year deal or 3. Find a capable right-handed hitting complement for Cecchini. Wedged in the middle, the signing of Sandoval, seems to be the most-favored among Red Sox fans; however, the Headley signing and Cecchini complement seem to be the most wise from an economic standpoint. With that said, the Red Sox seemed to make conservative and financially-restrained moves last off-season; and how did that work out?

Should Garin Cecchini Man The Hot Corner In 2015?

cheechWith inconsistency at third base, the Boston Red Sox may want to explore some other options at the position. Combining the struggles of Will Middlebrooks all throughout the year due to injury and Brock Holt in the second half, there is no one definite answer. Perhaps signing Pablo Sandoval may do Boston some good, but he is appealing to a number of teams and is by no means cheap.

A top prospect in the organization, perhaps Garin Cecchini could help fill the void at third. Certainly, he is an option. In 11 games for Boston, he clipped .258/.361/.452 with three doubles and a home run.
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He looked comfortable at third, committing just one error in his big league tenure while providing versatility with his ability to play the outfield.

A major plus for Cecchini comes from his splits. Sure he struggles against left-handed pitching, but he can hit righties without a problem. Slashing .272/.356/.376 during his tenure in Pawtucket while facing north paws, he made it clear he is ready for the next level on that side of the plate in conjunction with the fact that he hit .333 in 96 at-bats for the Paw Sox in August.
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When it comes to Cecchini’s game, it may appear as though he lacks power however, this is not the case. Sure he may not be a David Ortiz who smashes 30 bombs with ease, but he provides the right amount.

Standing tall at 6 ft. 3 and weighing in at 220 lbs, he managed to pop eight home runs between Boston and Pawtucket while adding 24 doubles and a triple. He is the type of guy who very well could hit double digit home runs (12-15), providing his team with serious gap power.
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The only reason why Cecchini would not be an option in the big leagues is a lack of experience. Amassing just 407 at-bats in Pawtucket, some may consider that rushing him to the top level. Instead, perhaps, he should see upwards of 750 at-bats in AAA before he is brought into such a high-pressure environment.

Also, maybe the .356 OBP versus right-handed pitching is not high enough. Maybe he needs a .400 OBP with a .900 OPS before earns his right to be there.
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Cecchini, who was considered a first round talent back in 2010, fell to the fourth round because he tore his ACL as a senior in high school. That is why he did not start his pro career until 2011. His brother Gavin was a first round pick by the New York Mets in 2012.