With Will Middlebrooks set to return to the Boston Red Sox soon, it leaves John Farrell with some serious questions. One of those pressing questions is pertinent to Middlebrooks’ playing time and how Boston implements him when he finishes his rehab assignment.
Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reported earlier in the week that Boston is entertaining the idea of playing the career third basemen in the outfield in an effort to give him more at-bats. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time Boston has toyed with playing Middlebrooks in the outfield. Back in 2012 when he made a Brock Holt-esque emergence, Bobby Valentine pondered shifting Middlebrooks to the outfield due to Kevin Youkilis’ presence. But instead, they decided it was not beneficial for Will, because they believed it may compromise the — at that juncture — third basemen of the future’s career.
The outfield was a mess for a good portion of the year. However, Daniel Nava is hot and will be hitting against right-handed pitchers until he cools down, Shane Victorino is close to coming back, and Brock Holt is……well, Brock Holt. Really, there’s no room for Middlebrooks in the outfield pending an unforeseen injury. Even then, the Red Sox have Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jonny Gomes, whom they’ll start over Middlebrooks in the outfield in a heartbeat. So this begs the question: where does Will Middlebrooks fit in? He’ll obviously be an excellent pinch-hit power-bat — regardless if he finds kind of, sort of regular playing time. However, there is an evident role for “WMB” to slide into upon his return. And that is playing third base when a southpaw is on the hill.
There are two, maybe three, benefits in doing so.
To start, Stephen Drew is horrendous against left-handed pitching while Middlebrooks is the clear superior in that regard. Farrell can ride the platoon and maximize lineup efficiency. Next, this allows Xander Bogaerts to see time at shortstop, which is the position he wants to and is expected to play in Boston for a long time. He can grow more acclimated to the nuances of the major-league shortstop position, instead of repeating the same struggles he confronted at the position in the beginning of the year. Do you really anticipate Bogaerts to be able to play short well with almost a year reprieve from it?
Finally, this gives Boston a chance to work Middlebrooks into the lineup, although I’m not sure if that is necessarily a good thing. He’s really scuffled the past year and a half after a rookie year of dominance. It’s uncertain whether or not he will help or hurt Boston if he is to see moderate playing time. The following scenario of starting Middlebrooks against lefties can, and probably will come to fruition. Ultimately, though, the effectiveness of this decision will be determined by Middlebrooks’ play.