BOSTON – With third baseman Will Middlebrooks going to the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with a fractured right index finger and the Red Sox struggling with the left side of the infield, it made sense to bring back shortstop Stephen Drew.
The question now is: What does this mean in the short and long term for shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Middlebrooks?
“Likely [Bogaerts] goes to third base,” said manager John Farrell. “And particularly against right-handed starters. It’s also going to depend upon who’s on this team, what the roster looks like once Stephen comes back to us. That’s not to suggest any other moves. We’ll put the best alignment on the field to win that night. I’m not going to say that exclusively against left-handed starters it’ll be Xander at shortstop. But that's going to be dependent upon the other personnel that’s here as well.”
The Red Sox likely will not have to make a decision on Middlebrooks for about a month, between his time on the DL and a rehab assignment that will be needed after that.
“We’ve got to get Will healthy first and we’ve got to get Will back to game speed,” Farrell said. “So, until that happens, we’ll factor all that in once he does return to us.”
Bogaerts leads the Sox with four errors in 41 games. Middlebrooks has committed two errors in 21 games. Drew was second among American League shortstops last season with a .984 fielding percentage last season.
Asked if he wished the move had been made to start the season, Farrell replied:
“I’m not going back there. I think the one thing that is still to remain included in all this is our commitment to young players and to go back and say something should have been done differently, we’re not about that.”
This move, however, could be perceived as the Sox moving away from young players. Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, along with rookie center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., have struggled mightily at the plate this season.
“We’re still about winning every day,” Farrell said. “And this improves our team once Stephen comes back to us. And he signed a deal thru the remainder of this year or has agreed to, so it doesn’t take away from our commitment to young talented players.”
Farrell met with Bogaerts in his office behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon. A few hours before game time, he had not yet talked to Middlebrooks about the Drew signing. Farrell said he was not concerned about the acquisition being perceived as a sign of failure by Bogaerts.
“No, not in that way at all, because he’s still going to get everyday play,” Farrell said. “It was more just to be clear on what our reasons for bringing Stephen back, what our plan is going forward short term and long term. Xander’s a very logical thinker, and it was important to have clarity in his mind and not wonder what's around the corner for him.”
Likewise, he was not concerned about Bogaerts or Middlebrooks being demoralized by the signing.
“No because I think they’re very well aware of where we stand as a team, what the needs are,” he said. “ Will’s case is unfortunate that he’s on the disabled list with a broken finger. And that’s completely out of his control and we’ll work thru once he returns to us, because there’s going to be the need for rehab assignment when he’s healthy. So we don’t have an exact time frame on his return. So with these moving parts the best way to improve our team was to bring Stephen in.”
Farrell could not say if the signing would have happened if Middlebrooks had not been hurt.
Bogaerts, who signed with the Sox in 2009, had never played third base professionally until last season. This season he played strictly shortstop. He appeared in nine major league games at third and 10 with Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013, and then supplanted Middlebrooks at third in the postseason.
“He took over third base and we had an everyday shortstop then,” Farrell said. “There was a lot of thought given to what’s the best alignment against a left-handed starter based on the personnel that’s here. And I have to include that because to sit here and say adamantly against certain pitchers this is what [will happen], there’s too much to be known yet. One, who’s on the roster and what’s the availability and what’s the best matchup?”
Once Middlebrooks is healthy, it remains to be seen who will then become the starting third baseman.
“That’s probably as much to the answer to that as who else is here and we fully anticipate Will begin here,” Farrell said. “If there are alignments that take advantage of individual strengths, we’re going to do that. So, without getting too far ahead of myself, that’s the best I can tell you right now.”
Since he was in the minor leagues there has been speculation that Bogaerts, who is listed at 6-feet-3 and 185 pounds, would eventually outgrow shortstop. The Sox have had conversations on the subject, but nothing beyond that.
“That’s so subjective right now because who knows by the age of 26 what’s he going to look like physically,” Farrell said. “And what is the range and what’s he best suited for? So yeah, it comes up in conversation but the answer to that is not known right now.”
Farrell said the team has not using Bogaerts or Middlebrooks in the outfield.