Futures of Bogaerts, Middlebrooks not how Sox Drew it up

Futures of Bogaerts, Middlebrooks not how Sox Drew it up
May 21, 2014, 11:30 am
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BOSTON - So much for the best laid plans.
     
Xander Bogaerts was going to be the Red Sox' starting shortstop, now and into the future.
     
He spent a lot of early mornings and late afternoons with infield instructor Brian Butterfield this spring, learning the nuances of the position. Butterfield, one of the game's best teachers, believed that Bogaerts had the skill and aptitude for the position.
     
So did the Red Sox.
     
Until Tuesday.
     
That's when the temptation of landing a more proven, more experienced shortstop for the short-term proved too tough to resist.
     
The Red Sox needed help at one of three positions: center field, third base and short. Re-signing Drew just happened to offer the option of upgrading two of the three positions at once.
     
With Drew at short, the Sox have a steadier, more dependable defensive shortstop for the rest of the season. And for the time being, they have a better bat at third, given that Bogaerts, for all his struggles, is a better offensive option than Will Middlebrooks.
     
It's hard to argue with the logic.
     
Getting Drew now makes sense for three reasons. First, he didn't cost the Sox any talent in exchange. Sure, $10.2 million for the rest of the way is an overpay, but the investment is short-term, the kind the Red Sox like.
     
Second, the competition for Drew was about to skyrocket in a little more than two weeks. Once the June 5 draft came and went, Drew would no longer be tied to compensation, making him much more attractive to the handful of teams (Pirates, Yankees, Mets) in desperate need of infield upgrades.
     
Finally, the timing made sense, since Will Middlebrooks is out for a while with a broken finger and the Red Sox didn't relish the prospect of manning third with yet another untested commodity, Brock Holt.
     
But now that Drew's arrival is imminent, what does that say for the futures of Bogaerts and Middlebrooks in Boston?
     
BOGAERTS: In the short-term, Bogaerts will remain essentially an everyday player. For most of the time, he'll be the starting third baseman, the way he was at times last September and again in the post-season.
     
Third is not his preferred position, as he made clear late Tuesday night.
     
"My heart is always at shortstop," said Bogaerts. "I always have seen myself as a shortstop."
     
And the Red Sox continue to view him that way, too. Just not for 2014. Or at least not on an everyday basis, since Bogaerts will start get some playing time there when the Sox face lefthanded starts, against whom Drew has struggles (.585 OPS last season).
     
The trick for Bogaerts will be to handle the back-and-forth without having the day-to-day uncertainty derail his progress.
     
There are some who feel Bogaerts will be freed by not having the responsibilities at short. For all the issues regarding range at short, it's fair to say the biggest disappointment this season has been the lack of pop at the plate. In 148 at-bats, Bogaerts has just 11 extra-base hits -- a triple, eight doubles and two homers.
      
For whatever reason, he hasn't driven the ball as expected. Perhaps now that he's mostly relegated to third - a position that is far more reactionary, with less worry about positioning from pitch-to-pitch, cutoff responsibilities and other details, Bogaerts can be more relaxed and the results will show at the plate.
     
The Sox haven't soured on Bogaerts. But they didn't relish the prospect of wallowing at .500 (or worse) the rest of the way and interrupted his grad studies at the position in favor of an upgrade.
     
It's likely that, come next February, Bogaerts will again report to Fort Myers as the team's starting shortstop, with a year of growing pains behind him and perhaps, more schooled at the position's finer points after watching and working with Drew for the next four months.
     
MIDDLEBROOKS: The picture for Middlebrooks is far less clear.
     
Now sidelined with the broken finger, Middlebrooks did little to cement himself in the first two months. He suffered two injuries (he missed almost a month with a calf strain earlier) and battled to stay above .200.     

The fear that now exists with Middlebrooks is that his first half-season, in 2012, was something of a mirage.
     
But the Red Sox are reluctant to give up on him altogether, since he possesses righthanded power, currently the toughest-to-find commodity in the game. For all his inconsistency, Middlebrooks does have 34 career homers in 686 at-bats.
     
That kind of raw power can't be easily dismissed, even if it does come with an inordinate number of strikeouts.
     
Remember, the Los Angeles Angels dealt Mark Trumbo, a player who profiles similarly to Middlebrooks (inconsistent, below-average defender, righthanded power), for two young starting pitching prospects, both of whom made their rotation.
     
The Red Sox are stacked with left-side infield prospects. In addition to Middlebrooks and Bogaerts, there's Deven Marrero and Garin Cecchini.
     
That means that once he's healthy, Middlebrooks will have to force playing time and at-bats with his production.
     
A best-case scenario might involve Middlebrooks taking advantage of what playing time he gets enough to rebuild his value, resulting in a trade elsewhere -- either at the July 31 deadline, or this off-season.