Let me begin by saying that I’m not hitting the panic button. After one of the best starts in franchise history in April, the 2013 Red Sox were likely to hit a bump in the road eventually. So far, the month of May has been that bump. While I don’t feel Ben Cherington should be quick to the trigger in making changes right now, it’s never too early to point out areas of concern as of right now. These are areas where the Sox are getting subpar results and if things don’t improve soon, they might need to look for an upgrade.
With all due respect to Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Ryan Dempster (and the solid outings each have provided so far), you can never have enough starting pitching. That old belief is very obvious when looking at the state of the fourth and fifth slots of the Sox rotation. John Lackey has looked pretty good so far (Only one of the five runs he gave up last night was earned. But that error night was his error). But he’s still a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery, and he’ll be closely monitored throughout the season. Felix Doubront has been disastrous. He does average over a strikeout per inning, but he allows too many walks and base hits. That lethal combination makes his economy of pitches lackluster and he usually exits the game too early.
The Sox do have a nice influx of pitching prospects to help out. But if Allen Webster‘s outing this past Tuesday taught us anything, it’s that rolling the dice on prospects is a risky business. I do believe guys like Webster, Rubby DeLaRosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Henry Owens are going to be huge factors to the success of the franchise’s future. The return of Franklin Morales could help if the Sox decide to use him as a starter. Right now there’s really no trade market for an established starter. But things could change by July 31st.
Possible Worthwhile Trade Acquisition(s)
The Phils aren’t moving him as of right now. With Roy Halladay now on the DL following a shoulder surgery, Philadelphia is actually in buyer’s mode. But if they continue to tread water and find themselves in a similar position by the end of July, they could make Lee available. Lee is owed a lot of money ($25 million in 2014 and 2015 and a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016) and they won’t just hand him to the Sox. But this is likely their last chance to unload that contract for a decent return. With the depth of the Sox farm system, Boston finds themselves in a unique position. They could walk away if the Phils ask for too much. If a package doesn’t include any of Webster, DeLaRosa, Barnes, Ranaudo, Owens, Garin Cecchini, Blake Swihart, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, or Bryce Brentz, a trade for Lee might be worth it.
Okay enough about pitching. Here’s the other area of concern:
Will Middlebrooks‘ numbers for 2013 as of May 9th: .194/.229/.379/.608
Middlebrooks vs Toronto: .320/.370/.880/1.250
Middlebrooks vs everybody else: .162/.194/.253/.447
Middlebrooks vs everybody else if you remove the Houston series: .119/.149/.167/.316
Long story short: Middlebrooks has been a subpar producer from a position where above average offensive production is needed. His lack of plate discipline is a concern for both the present and future (39 strikeouts versus only five walks). One of the biggest reasons the club hasn’t really considered demoting Middlebrooks right now is simply the fact there really isn’t another third base prospect near major league ready (Michael Almanzar has only 29 games at Double A and Garin Cecchini is in High A). There’s no current trade market and the only free agent to be who might be a worthwhile pickup is Michael Young.
Different Scenarios For Third Base If Middlebrooks Is Sent Down
An unlikely avenue they travel, but a possibility nonetheless. Both can field the position efficiently and could provide an offensive upgrade. But both guys are injury prone and won’t sign unless the price is right. But in the case of Jones, we have a guy who’s at peace with retirement and is undeniably proud of spending his entire career in one organization.
Mauro Gomez Part II
Brandon Snyder, a first round pick by the Orioles in the star-studded 2005 draft, has been on fire at Pawtucket with a line of .327/.425/.644/1.069 with seven home runs. But he’s never been able to carry that success over to the major league level and has played more first base than third base. The Sox ultimately went down this road with Mauro Gomez last year. Gomez never hit for much power with the big club and was a subpar fielder at third.
Though a shortstop by trade, the athletically gifted Bogaerts could eventually find himself moving off of shortstop. Third base or left field are the likely possibilities. With Bogaerts hitting well at Portland, the Sox could give Bogaerts the call and put him at third. But it should be noted that he’s played less games at the upper levels than Jackie Bradley had before making his major league debut. So there’s a good chance that Bogaerts could find himself overmatched as well.
They could call up Jose Iglesias and move Stephen Drew to third. Iglesias will likely not be hitting the way he had been coming out the gate, but his glove will help the pitching staff in run prevention. Drew has never played third in his professional career, but he has the range to be a viable defender at the position. His bat has come around and he would be an upgrade over Middlebrooks.
It’s still early and there’s still a chance Middlebrooks and Doubront make the necessary adjustments and turn things around. But if they don’t, the Sox need to consider upgrades.