Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sox Won't Miss Middlebrooks

Middlebrooks seems unlikely to resurrect his career in San Diego (RantSports)
The rapidly improving Padres made another move yesterday, trading catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. In Hanigan, the Red Sox get a veteran catcher to replace David Ross and back up Christian Vazquez. Middlebrooks fills San Diego's third base hole left by Chase Headley, adding another righthanded power bat to a lineup that already includes righties Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, and Jedd Gyorko.

If the Padres are counting on Middlbebrooks to be their starting third sacker, they're going to be sorely disappointed. Given his recent struggles and injury woes, he's simply not a major league caliber third baseman, much less an everyday player. He's not the solution.

It's been a long fall from grace for Middlebrooks, who burst on the scene with a rip-roaring start to his big league career in 2012. Called up to replace an injured Kevin Youkilis, the 23 year-old hit so well that Boston traded Youkilis so he could be their everyday third baseman. One of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable Red Sox season, Middlebrooks was hitting .288/.325/.509 when an errant Esmil Rogers fastball shattered a bone in his right hand on August 10th, ending Middlebrooks season Jim Rice-style and bid for Rookie of the Year (not that he would have won in the year of Mike Trout).

It's tempting to blame his subsequent struggles on that injury and call it a career-altering event the same way Nomar Garciaparra's 2001 wrist injury was. But a closer look reveals Middlebrooks was already in the midst of a prolonged slump, having batted just .240/.276/.416 over his previous 35 games when his season was cut short.

Middlebrooks has yet to reach the heights of his rookie season, much less deliver on the enormous promise he displayed in the first few months of his career. It didn't take long for pitchers to figure him out, and he hasn't been able to make the necessary adjustments. Middlebrooks appears to be a player, like Kevin Maas or former Red Sox Walt Dropo, who peaked as a rookie and was incapable of replicating his early success.

One of the few weak links on the 2013 World Series champs, Middlebrooks batted just .227/.271/.425 and spent much of the summer in Pawtucket following a terrible start to the season, which was compounded by a strained back. Boston's trade of Jose Iglesias gave him back the third base job, and he hit better upon his return to the big leagues (.805 OPS after the demotion compared to .617 before), only to disappear during the playoffs (.490 OPS and one RBI in 10 games), leading John Farrell to bench him in the World Series in favor of rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts.

One would have thought Middlebrooks could only improve upon his ugly sophomore campaign, but in 2014 he somehow regressed even further. He played just four games before being sidelined by a strained calf. He returned in late April, only to land back on the Disabled List three weeks later with a broken finger. When he finally made his way back at the beginning of August, he was given every opportunity to redeem himself and prove he deserved to be Boston's starting third baseman in 2015. He bombed, batting .188/.230/.236 without a home run the rest of the way (42 games).

That led the Red Sox to go out and sign Pablo Sandoval this winter, a huge upgrade over their floundering incumbent. Given Boston's ensuing logjam on the left side of the infield (they signed shortstop Hanley Ramirez despite still having Bogaerts at short), Middlebrooks became expendable. It was only a matter of time before he was dealt, and the Red Sox were lucky to find a suitor for their 26 year-old project in San Diego.

Middlebrooks's career, like many of the fly balls he hits next year, seems destined to die in Petco Park, which is even more unkind to hitters than Fenway is to pitchers. Middlebrooks has hit a mere .226/.269/.406 away from Fenway, which doesn't bode well for him or the Padres. The one thing Middlebrooks does well--hit for power--is going to be nullified by his home ballpark. As such, he's going to be a liability to a Padres club that needs all the firepower it can get in order to overcome the Dodgers and reigning World Series champs in their own division.

So if the Padres think they're going to get anything above a replacement level player out of Middlebrooks, they're terribly mistaken.

No comments:

Post a Comment