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Red Sox Place Middlebrooks on DL, Start Looking to Improve Left Side of Infield

Will Middlebrooks can't believe it: he's on the DL again, and what's worse, he might not be the third baseman the Red Sox are looking for. (Boston Herald)

On Saturday, the Red Sox placed third baseman Will Middlebrooks on the 15-day disabled for the second time this season, this time with a fractured right index finger. The injury may be a blessing in disguise, as he’s hitting just .197/.305/.324 with all of two home runs in 21 games.

To replace him on the 25-man roster, the Red Sox recalled Brock Holt from Pawtucket.Though he’s batting .308/.387/.385 during his brief stints (31 PA) in the majors this year, he’s a .260/.318/.313 hitter in parts of three seasons with the Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.

In an, er, unrelated story, Rob Bradford writes the Red Sox are looking to improve the left side of their infield.

The glaringly obvious option available for Boston is former shortstop Stephen Drew, who turned down the team’s $14.1 million qualifying offer and now still finds himself a free agent. Drew, of course, was part of 2013′s World Series team, providing great defense up the middle and a solid bat in the middle of the lineup (except for during the postseason). Among MLB shortstops in 2013, he was 8th in Wins Above Replacement, 6th in slugging percentage, and 6th in wOBA (a catch-all hitting metric designed to account for the difference between a single and a double). Drew’s 2013 slash line of .253/.333/.443 certainly would represent a marked improvement over what the Red Sox are currently getting out of Middlebrooks, Holt, Jonathan Herrera and Co. at the third base position.

According to Bradford, who interviewed Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, the front office has not spoken with Scott Boras about bringing Drew back. If they do, they’ll likely have plenty of competition from other teams that will feel free to pursue him after the MLB draft in June, when there will no longer be any sort of draft pick compensation tied to Drew. Add in the team’s desire to keep Xander Bogaerts at shortstop all season to better evaluate his future at the position, and Drew’s return seems highly unlikely.

It’s unclear what options that leaves the Red Sox exactly – thanks but no thanks, Ryan Roberts — but clearly they need to do something. Holt is certainly not the solution for a team looking to make a deep postseason run. Outside of his first cup of coffee in the majors, Middlebrooks hasn’t looked like the answer at third base either, with a batting average of just .222 and an abysmal on-base percentage of .277 between 2013-14. His 17 home runs in 419 at bats are certainly promising – his power from the right side has always been his most tantalizing skill — but his increasing ineptitude to hit right-handed pitching (.143/.186/.286 thus far this year, a slightly better .206/.244/.406 vs. RHP in 2013) is quickly becoming problematic for a supposed everyday third baseman.

Garin Cecchini is waiting in the wings in Pawtucket, batting .303/.392/.371, but he’s probably not quite ready for the Big Show. His strikeout percentage has spiked at the AAA level, and his fielding isn’t quite polished enough to handle the hot corner at the highest level just yet.

The Red Sox certainly have the cache of prospects to hunt for their next third baseman on the trade market, but there don’t seem to be great options out there for Cherington and the front office to find. A Chase Headley rental? Is that worth a prospect? And is that really any better than hoping Middlebrooks finds his 2012 form buried somewhere at the bottom of his locker? A dubious proposition at best.

So it seems to me our options are as follows:

  1. Postpone, if not sacrifice, Bogaerts’s future at shortstop by moving him to third and making room for Drew’s homecoming.
  2. Platoon Jonathan Herrera (career .269/.335/.326 vs. RHP) and Middlebrooks (.288/.342/.491 vs. LHP).
  3. Hope Middlebrooks gets his powers back from baseball’s version of the Space Jam aliens.

I was going to put “Throw in the towel on the 2014 season” as Option #4, but that seemed redundant with Options #2 and #3.

And to think I’ve been wondering why I’m so down on the 2014 Red Sox.

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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