BOSTON — Don’t bank on Will Middlebrooks sliding across the diamond just yet.
The Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli on Monday, and still hope that the power-hitting first baseman will be back in Boston next season. If Napoli signs elsewhere, though, the Red Sox will be forced to explore other options.
One idea that’s been tossed around by both fans and members of the media has been the possibility of Middlebrooks shifting over to first base. Shortstop Stephen Drew has been made a qualifying offer, leaving open the possibility that he could return next season, and Xander Bogaerts showed that he’s fully capable of playing third base if the organization goes in that direction. Plus, Middlebrooks got his first taste of first base in 2013, so such a position change no longer seems too far-fetched.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was asked Monday about the possibility of Middlebrooks playing first base, and he made it clear that it’s not something that’s being given much consideration as of now.
“When you get to the offseason and are talking about a young player who 15 months ago was sort of taking the league by storm and a lot of people, including us, were talking about as one of the better young third basemen in the league, I don’t think that changes just because he has a bit of a down period,” Cherington said. “He went through some lumps this year. He went back to Triple-A, as a lot of good young players have had to do in their careers, and came back and played very well down the stretch, played much better. We got into the playoffs and had another young player [Bogaerts] who was hot and earned playing time. We’re glad that we have both of them.”
Middlebrooks hit .227 (79-for-348) with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs in 94 regular-season games this season. He also struck out 98 times and posted a .271 on-base percentage, marking a major regression from his 2012 campaign, in which he hit .288 (77-for-267) with 15 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .325 on-base percentage in 75 regular-season games. But despite Middlebrooks’ 2013 struggles, Cherington remains confident in the 25-year-old’s future as a third baseman with the Red Sox.
“Having a young third baseman with Will’s ability — power, athleticism — is a really important thing for the organization,” Cherington said. “I think you only consider moving someone like that off a spot if it’s driven by the need of the team. We’re not there yet. We see Will as a third baseman, and that’s where we want him to be focused on this offseason.”
Middlebrooks played 92 games at third base this season. He made one appearance at first base and two appearances at second base.