June 4, 2012
Out of Left Field
The Red Sox Roster Crunch
How do you solve a midseason roster crunch? If there are two players for one position, there are a number of options. Trade one of the players, demote one, put one on the disabled list, or even sit one on the bench and play the hot hand. None of those solutions necessarily maximizes the team’s assets, but sometimes that is okay. If we are talking about two last-guy-out-of-the-pen types, then it isn’t of particular importance.
Sometimes the stakes are higher. When the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez, they found themselves with two Hall of Fame-caliber shortstops and only one shortstop position (Joe Maddon hadn’t been invented yet). Demoting, trading, and the rest of the above list were not options. Sometimes there are too many babies for the bathwater. Nobody wants dirty babies.
Eight years later, the Red Sox find themselves in a similar, if less star-encrusted, bind. After another midseason injury to starting third baseman Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox called up 23-year-old Will Middlebrooks to keep the seat warm. Kevin Goldstein rated Middlebrooks a four-star prospect and ranked him as the third-best in the Red Sox system. Baseball America put him first. Middlebrooks hit .285/.328/.506 at three levels in 2011 and followed that up by crushing the ball at Triple-A this season, hitting .333/.380/.677 with nine homers in 100 plate appearances.
Upon arriving in Boston, Middlebrooks did nothing to quiet the hype. In his first three games he had five hits, three of which went for extra bases. He posted a 1.156 OPS with runners in scoring position. One game, manager Bobby Valentine even hit him second in the order. In the 18 games Youkilis missed, Middlebrooks hit .297/.325/.581 with five home runs. This was the ascension of the next Red Sox third baseman, and we were all witnesses.
Then Kevin Youkilis came back.
Red Sox Nation collectively said, “Oh yeah! I totally forgot about that dude.” Normally the solution to such a situation is to slap the slugging 23-year-old on the back, tell him his time is soon, and send him back to the bus rides and Happy-Meal-level per-diems of Triple-A. Maybe that’s what the Red Sox should have done. But they didn’t do that.