Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Thoughts on the Left Side of the Infield

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There is a growing sense that Stephen Drew is destined for a reunion with the defending World Champions. As the 30-year old’s stock seemingly plummets, the chances that he winds up playing shortstop for the Red Sox on March 31 in Baltimore increases. Drew turned down a qualifying offer from Boston earlier this offseason, and it’s likely that the Red Sox would welcome him back on their terms. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The argument for bringing Drew back focuses almost exclusively on the short term. Conversely, the reasons for not pursuing his services this offseason have a great deal to do with the Red Sox future. However, it would be entirely too simple to position this solely as a  present versus future debate. Let’s flesh it out a bit.

The 2014 Red Sox are certainly deeper with Drew on their team. That in and of itself, however, doesn’t make acquiring Drew the correct play.  I don’t see a realistic way that they would be able to keep Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, and Drew on the major league roster. That puts Middlebrooks back in Rhode Island to face more Triple-A pitching. There is no doubt that Middlebrooks has had some of his flaws at the plate exposed at the major league level, but relegating him to an extended period of time in Pawtucket would likely be rendered a waste. At some point, the Red Sox have to see what the 25-year old can do over a full season in the big leagues. If he is able to perform at the level I believe he can (.260/.315/.490 and a home run total around 30), Ben Cherington can leave him at third base for the foreseeable future or shop him in a trade that would bring Boston a hefty return. Middlebrooks manning third base in 2014 would also allow Bogaerts to remain at shortstop.

Bogaerts isn’t going to be a special player — he already is. The poise he exhibited throughout the month of October would have impressed the toughest skeptic. His bat will likely play anywhere on the field. Should the Red Sox bring Drew back on, let’s say, a one-year deal, Bogaerts would shift from shortstop to third base. Would a full year away from one of the most demanding positions on the diamond hinder him from shifting back there in 2015? I believe it’s plausible that a year away from shortstop would prevent Bogaerts from remaining at that position long term. Third base coach, Brian Butterfield, in a conversation with Boston Globe correspondent Maureen Mullen last month, gushed over Bogaerts’ future as a shortstop.

“I love him as a shortstop. Even though he’s a bigger body, he’s athletic. He’s very compact. He moves his feet like a smaller guy playing shortstop. He has great body control. He has a good imagination. He can get the ball in the air quickly when he needs to.”

Butterfield, a huge Bogaerts advocate, knows that success at this position requires a tremendous amount of work.

“He’s continuing to learn, and I think the most important thing for him, and the thing that he did so well, was the more reps he got at the big league level the more comfortable he got.”

Moving Bogaerts to third base, even for just a season, would likely prevent him from getting the big league repetitions necessary for an adequate young shortstop to evolve into an above average defender at the position. If he is able to stick at shortstop, Bogaerts, who is as prized as virtually any young player in the game of baseball right now, will carry even more value than he would at the hot corner.

None of this takes away from Drew’s skill set. He is an excellent defender who hits right handed pitching very well. Drew is a top tier shortstop who is having a hard time finding his footing in a market that doesn’t seem to want to pay what Scott Boras is demanding or is apprehensive to relinquish a draft pick. In reality, it’s probably a combination of the two. His presence on Boston’s roster in 2014 would give the club a tremendous amount of depth on the left side of the infield, something that the 2013 Red Sox needed. But Middlebrooks’ upside, Bogaerts’ value as a franchise shortstop, and the fact that the Red Sox would receive a supplemental first round draft pick, outweighs the depth that retaining Drew would provide.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Left Side of the Infield

  1. How long of a leash do you give Middlebrooks? What if he performs next April and May just as he did last April and May? Does he get a “full season” no matter what, or is there a level of performance he has to meet to keep his job? What happens if he performs next year the same way he did this year? Do you just write off third base as a loss for the year? What’s the move to be made, and when does the trigger get pulled on it?

    • Hi Brian. Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot.

      I think all of your questions are fair. By letting Drew sign elsewhere, you’re admittedly sacrificing depth. I can’t argue against that. But I believe in what Middlebrooks has done in the minors. I’m not sure there’s much left for him to prove there. If Middlebrooks happens to flounder (BA/OBP), I believe his power and defense will still render him a valuable piece on the major league team. The Red Sox didn’t get much out of third base last year. Without looking at the actual numbers, I’m willing to bet a full season of WMB would at least be an upgrade from what they received from that position in 2013. Should he happen to adjust to the adjustments that teams and pitchers made to him in the first half of last season (like he did in the latter half of last season), then I think you’re left with a really solid player who carries a ton of power in a league that is bereft of it.

      The Red Sox were willing to let Pedroia play through his struggles at the major league level, so I would like to see them take the same approach with Middlebrooks. I know that Pedroia’s on-base abilities dwarf Middlebrooks’, but I think you can still apply the same sort of patience to both players.

      I understand the reasons why the Red Sox would want to bring Drew back, but if I’m forced to take a side, I’m choosing the one where Middlebrooks gets a clear shot at 500-600 PA’s.

      • Still, though: Pedroia broke out after April in 2007. Say it’s June 15 and Middlebrooks is struggling mightily. Then what?

      • Pedroia didn’t get over .300 until late May. I remember calls for Alex Cora.

        I feel like we could do this all day with prospects who have passed every test at the minor league level. I’m sure that, ideally, the Red Sox would have a bit more depth in center should Jackie Bradley Jr. struggle. Victorino in CF and Nava in right for an extended period of time certainly isn’t a perfect scenario. Brock Holt or Jonathan Herrera playing in the infield for a long stretch would not be a situation I would want, but the upside that a player like Middlebrooks or Bradley brings to the table makes the gamble worth it.

        We’ve seen roughly 650 PA’s from Middlebrooks in the majors. I don’t think it’s unfair to expect something like 26 home runs with a .250/.310/.480 line, assuming his BABIP evens out a bit.

        Don’t you think it’s a bit of a waste to send him back to the minors? Don’t you want to see if he can get on-base enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup? When is it safe to hand over the reins over to a young player?

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