Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Red Sox have stacked the deck this offseason, through a much quitter winter. Ben Cherington has made it so that John Farrell has a plethora of options for a multitude of facets on their team. The talent pool that the Red Sox possess is extensively deep in the outfield, rotation, and bullpen, however, the Red Sox ignored a weakness that has been prevalent for sometime. The weakness is their infield depth.
Last season, even though we hoisted the World Series trophy over our shoulders, this was a continuous problem for the team. Will Middlebrooks struggled with his plate discipline and on the defensive side of the ball, and as a result he was sent down to Pawtucket to work on his mechanics. So Farrell was forced to field Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder in his absence. After the brief experiment with the two journeymen, it was apparent that Holt and Snyder were better suited for Triple-A baseball. Middlebrooks was brought back up, and rejuvenated his slugging percentage to an acceptable above average number. His plate discipline and defensive value was still nil. When it was all said and done and the season came to a close, Middlebrooks finished with a lackluster .227/.271/.425 slash, complemented by a -0.1 WAR.
The right side of the infield is set, occupied by All-Star’s Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia. The left side elicits a cause for concern, with top prospect Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third. Bogaerts is projected to be something special in his first full season in the major’s, but with inexperience there is never a guarantee for success. Also, never count out the injury bug to rear its ugly head, and select one of the Red Sox valuable infield pieces as its next victim. Pedroia, Bogaerts, or Middlebrooks could all fall to injuries this season. It would also not be surprising to see Middlebrooks get sent down anyway, as his lack of plate discipline and defensive tools, makes me question whether he will ever be an effective MLB third basemen.
The scenario given in the following paragraph, could very much occur, and if it did the Red Sox would be relying on Jonathan Herrera to act as a replacement. The Red Sox acquired Herrera in a trade earlier this offseason with the Rockies, and since being added to the 40 man roster, people have seemed quite content with him as our utility infielder. I am not sold on that notion whatsoever. In five seasons as a member of the Rockies, Herrera collected a career 69 OPS+ (On base + Slugging, adjusted to park and league effects). A 100 OPS+ is considered average. To put that number into perspective, weak-hitting former Red Sox infielder Julio Lugo accumulated a 72 OPS+ in a Boston uniform. Herrera also cannot act as an effective pinch runner, only collecting 4 Net Steals (SB-CS) in 375 career games. The only optimistic part of Herrera’s game is his above average defensive value. He is not a Brendan Ryan or Darwin Barney-esque defender, but still a very good one. But you have to ask yourself; is that sustainable with an infield surrounded with question marks?
Some will say that even with the glaring weakness on the left side of the infield last season, we still won the World Series, therefore there is no reason to upgrade competing in the toughest division in sports. We already parted ways with two vital pieces to our success last season in Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalmacchia. Replacing these guys is not an easy fix. The Red Sox are already banking on rookie Jackie Bradley in center, and a veteran platoon combination at catcher as compensation for these departures. I think the catching platoon is solid, and with the Red Sox having so much depth in the outfield, it seems likely that they will find the right solution eventually. However, these replacements will not reach the production levels of the 2013 versions of Ellsbury and Saltalmacchia. As much as I hate to say it, the Red Sox did not get any better this offseason, and their division rivals the Yankees and the Rays did. Neither team is perfect, and even now I hesitate and struggle to say that either team is better on paper, but it is close. The Yankees brought in a plethora of established, talented veterans into the fold, and the Rays will have a full season of Wil Myers and looking at the team position-by-position, they have above-average talent all over the field. Upgrading at this position via trade or on the market should thoroughly be considered an option, and as it works out, the only quality option on the market right now is Stephen Drew.
Drew hit for a solid .253/.333/.443 clip last season, along with a 3.1 WAR. Drew is the depiction of average or slightly above average, and that is a guarantee. He is an obvious upgrade over Middlebrooks, and Middlebrooks can transition into a role he is more suited for as a role player. Middlebrooks is a very nice backup to any team. This would be more fitting to the Red Sox strategy of having depth all-around. Even if the emergence of Drew means the departure of Middlebrooks via trade, than the Red Sox still would not have that same fear about if Middlebrooks would perform or not. Instead they could feel confident about the team they are fielding everyday, and the situation in which Herrera would have to take over, would seem less likely. The Red Sox have the money to make the move, despite if it would lift them over the luxury tax threshold. A budget constraint team is never a huge issue for the ownership group in place. Bringing back Drew on a two-year deal, or one-year deal with an opt-out would be ideal. Drew could act as a one-two year bridge to the Red Sox young prospects Garin Cecchini and Mookie Betts, while not stifling their future plans to implement these potential impact prospect. Looking to next year’s free agent shortstop class, there are some quality options if Drew decides to opt-out after the first year, such as Yunel Escobar, J.J Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera if they decide that Cecchini is not ready to be an everyday third basemen. I see no down side to pursuing Drew or even exploring a trade to add a better utility infield option. It just bolsters a team competing in the rigorous American League East.