Looking over ESPN.com’s report on the third base prospects for the Red Sox, I have to agree this is their most vulnerable position. Third base usually brings power or batting consistency to the line-up, and the Red Sox have lacked that since the departure of Adrian Beltre, in retrospect a regrettable loss.
Beltre’s successor was Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek God of Walks,” a title that practically made him a poster boy for the offensive strategy of the team. But Youkilis was chronically injured and a young pretender named Will Middlebrooks was ripe for the Majors. They shared the job for a year, but Youkilis ended up with the Yankees and, with continued physical handicaps, has drifted to oblivion. Now his successor faces the same fate.
Middlebrooks has been afforded more opportunity to rehabilitate than Youkilis ever had. He has been the youth of eternal promise for three years. Except for a healthy month or two when he first took over third base in Boston, he has been a chronic disappointment. He has never found a way to lay off the low outside pitch or take the outside pitch to the opposite field. He is a gaping hole in the lower third of the line-up.
I think the time has come to cross the Middlebrooks and choose his successor. It could be Brock Holt, who is versatile enough to play anywhere, or it could be a free agent with some pop. Holt’s value as a replacement everywhere except pitching and catching suggests a need for a full-time third baseman.
But the fragility of Middlebrooks darkens his future and his ability to mature as a Major League hitter. His fielding has even been erratic this year, although injuries could be blamed for that, too. If the Red Sox wanted to spend another year re-building and not contending, he might still be worth the risk, but the Red Sox are not taking that road next year.
I cheered the arrival of Middlebrooks and accepted his replacement of the icon Youkilis. Now I think his promise has expired, and he should rehab with another team. I hope to see an established slugger at third base next year, bringing a reliable 20-25 homers to the offense.