Red Sox: Catching up with old friend Will Middlebrooks
By Sean Penney
Looking back at the career of former Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who recently emerged in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers.
While most of our attention has been locked on the Boston Red Sox, it’s always nice to see a former fan favorite find success elsewhere – so long as they aren’t doing so against us. That has become the case for Will Middlebrooks, who recently reemerged with the Texas Rangers.
The 28-year old was a September call up for the Rangers, given the opportunity to see playing time at third base in the wake of a season-ending injury to another old friend, Adrian Beltre. While he’s only appeared in three games with the Rangers, including one start, Middlebrooks is making the most of his return to the big leagues.
Middlebrooks is 3-for-7 (.429) with a 1.429 OPS and three RBI in limited time this season. On Wednesday he became the first hitter in the modern era to record a pinch-hit triple in both games of a doubleheader. He drove in a pair of runs to give the Rangers the lead in the 4th inning of Game 1. Then in the nightcap, Middlebrooks tripled and scored in the 6th inning to pull Texas within a run.
It’s a minuscule sample size, yet these results are the best Middlebrooks has produced since he broke into the majors with the Red Sox in 2012. He quickly captured the hearts of Red Sox Nation by hitting .288/.325/509 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 75 games with Boston. Middlebrooks also captured the heart of former NESN sideline reporter Jenny Dell, ultimately leading to her departure from the broadcast to the disappointment of many viewers.
A promising start to his career led Red Sox fans to anoint him as the next great right-handed power threat in the lineup, yet Middlebrooks was never able to recapture the magic from his rookie season. Injuries and inconsistency led to trips to the disabled list and Pawtucket over the next two seasons as Middlebrooks saw his production rapidly decline.
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As a member of the 2013 World Series championship team, Middlebrooks appeared in 10 postseason games for the Red Sox on their path to the title. His dismal production at the plate sent him to the bench in favor of emerging prospect Xander Bogaerts for the decisive Game 6 in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.
Middlebrooks would appear in only one game during the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, entering as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement in Game 3. He ultimately cost the Red Sox that game when umpires ruled he obstructed the path of Allen Craig. Middlebrooks dove for a ball thrown wide of third base by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, hitting the ground as the ball caromed into foul territory. In an attempt to get to his feet, Middlebrooks (inadvertently?) tripped Craig, who was awarded home plate for the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. The “trip-off” loss is still remembered as one of the most bizarre endings in World Series history.
2014 would be the last season that Middlebrooks would spend with the Red Sox. He was limited to 63 games by a calf strain and broken finger, failing to regain his swing when he eventually returned in August. His batting averaged tumbled below the Mendoza Line as his OPS plummeted to a career-low .521 that season. Even when he endured slumps in the past, Middlebrooks had still been a power threat. That season he hit a mere two home runs in 215 at-bats, spelling the end of any hopes that he’d recapture the form that made him an emerging star as a rookie.
The Red Sox traded Middlebrooks to the San Diego Padres after the 2014 season for Ryan Hanigan. The veteran gave the Red Sox two solid seasons as a defensive-minded backup catcher, which is more value than the Padres squeezed out of Middlebrooks in his lone season with the franchise.
The downside of the deal is that it left the Red Sox in need of a third baseman, paving the way for the ill-fated signing of Pablo Sandoval. In retrospect, most fans would prefer to have given Middlebrooks another shot rather than invest in the sunk cost that the Panda would quickly become. If Middlebrooks had been able to stay healthier, perhaps his production wouldn’t have spiraled down the drain, which ultimately could have saved them from making the worst free agent signing in franchise history.
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The future of the third base position in Boston is now secure with Rafael Devers, who inevitably would have pushed Middlebrooks aside. There’s little reason to expect Middlebrooks will ever return to the organization that drafted him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, but it’s nice to see him getting a chance to play in the big leagues again somewhere else.