Red Sox's Stephen Drew Signing Is Beginning of the End of Will Middlebrooks

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

Odds are Drew won't be high-fiving Middlebrooks much this season.
Odds are Drew won't be high-fiving Middlebrooks much this season.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

In a bid to invigorate a slumping offense, the Red Sox signed former shortstop Stephen Drew to a one-year contract Tuesday, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal broke.

While that will have to wait at least 10 days as Drew gets back into playing shape, per Red Sox skipper John Farrell via Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe, the reverberations of Drew's signing are already being felt.

Namely, the end of Will Middlebrooks in Boston.

Drew is back to manning shortstop for Boston.
Drew is back to manning shortstop for Boston.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

To understand why signing a shortstop would impact third baseman Middlebrooks' tenure in Boston, take a look at incumbent shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

Just 21 years old, the Red Sox phenom burst on the scene, helping lead the team to a World Series victory in 2013 while playing third base, despite his natural position being shortstop. While his defense had been questionable to start 2014 and the power suspect, Bogaerts was still doing enough to rank fifth among all American League shortstops in wins above replacement (WAR).

Farrell tells Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal the solution is Bogaerts shifting to third base, although the right-hander could still see time at shortstop against left-handers. That's a great solution in the interim while incumbent third baseman Will Middlebrooks is on the disabled list with a fractured right index finger.

But what happens when Middlebrooks comes off the DL?

Simple. He becomes a forgotten man in Boston.

It's quite a fall from grace for Middlebrooks, who pushed Kevin Youkilis out of town with his strong play in the 2012 season, as The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham recollects. He ended the year hitting .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs in 75 games. He appeared on the verge of giving Boston a young third baseman with raw power dripping off him.

Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, his sophomore campaign in 2013 saw him struggle to start the season, get demoted to Triple-A and eventually lose his third base job to Bogaerts as the team rolled to its third World Series championship in the past decade.

While Middlebrooks' power was still there with 17 homers in 94 games, he just didn't have the contact skills or plate discipline to attack pitches he could do something with, as evidenced by his .227 average and 5.3 walk percentage.

Incumbent shortstop Bogaerts will shift to third base, knocking Middlebrooks out of the lineup.
Incumbent shortstop Bogaerts will shift to third base, knocking Middlebrooks out of the lineup.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

So far, 2014 has been a terrible season for Middlebrooks. His most recent DL assignment is already his second of the season, and when he's been in the lineup, he just hasn't been hitting. He's made strides in the plate discipline department, walking 8.5 percent of the time. But when you're hitting .197, there's only so far that plate discipline will take you.

And now, Drew's back with the team. It's difficult to imagine Middlebrooks keeping a spot on the roster when he returns because the team will need its backup infielder to be capable of playing shortstop, as MacPherson notes. Middlebrooks can't do that and thusly appears to have been rendered expendable, MacPherson adds.

For now, Middlebrooks can be optioned to Triple-A, but there's another problem on that front. The team has the No. 1 Red Sox prospect, per Bleacher Report's Ben Carsley, playing third base in Triple-A in Garin Cecchini. That means that the two will have to share time at third base and likely designated hitter. It's also possible that Middlebrooks will see some time at first base, where he started once last season for Boston.

The Drew signing only matters for 2014, so it's possible that Middlebrooks is right back in Boston's plans for 2015. However, that could change on a dime; the team could bring Drew back as a free agent this offseason, permanently installing Bogaerts at third base. The team could also bypass Middlebrooks in favor of Cecchini, so Middlebrooks' future in Boston is in serious doubt.

That could be to Boston's gain, though. Middlebrooks' raw power is rare, and there are plenty of teams that would love to get an opportunity at turning him into a middle-of-the-order hitter. Middlebrooks may yet bring value to the team in being an intriguing power chip that Boston could use to fill its remaining holes (finding a center fielder, perhaps?)

Miami Marlins GM Dan Jennings, in particular, has admitted to being a big fan of Middlebrooks, as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez wrote in the offseason.

It just so happens that the Marlins may eventually have to trade Giancarlo Stanton due to the star right fielder's increasing price tag, as the Sun-Sentinel explores.

It's not the first time that Stanton has been linked to the Red Sox, as The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo explored that very possibility in spring training. Dangling Middlebrooks in a deal along with some of the team's best pitching prospects could very well bring the slugger to Boston.

Middlebrooks may be done in Boston.
Middlebrooks may be done in Boston.Tom Olmscheid/Associated Press

Barring a big injury, the 2014 Red Sox will carry on without Will Middlebrooks as a significant part of the team. At age 25, time is running out for Middlebrooks to show he can be a valued member of a lineup.

His next chance to do so may not be in Boston.