Red Sox Mailbag: Will Middlebrooks to Be Under Red Sox Nation’s Watchful Eye in 2012

by NESN Staff

December 29, 2011

Red Sox Mailbag: Will Middlebrooks to Be Under Red Sox Nation's Watchful Eye in 2012The Red Sox finally made a marquee move. After months of negotiations, the team acquired closer Andrew Bailey from the Athletics on Wednesday as the team’s replacement for Jonathan Papelbon.

With the addition of Mark Melancon, Boston now has two young and inexpensive pitchers to carry the back end of the rotation.

While many wait and see if the Red Sox strike gold again, I’ll answer your probing questions for this week’s mailbag. There were a handful of great questions this week, so keep firing away if I missed you this time.

Does Daniel Bard really have a shot at starting this year considering his arm is conditioned for one inning and we’ve only ever consistently seen his fastball and change-up?     
– Bo Bemis, via Facebook

The trade for Bailey essentially sealed Daniel Bard‘s fate in the rotation. During a teleconference on Wednesday, general manager Ben Cherington said they would give Bard every opportunity to thrive as a major league starter.

As for the conditioning of his arm and developing a third pitch, that will be the goal in spring training. Bobby Valentine and Bob McClure will stretch Bard’s innings out gradually, so he can make a seamless transition.

This isn’t a relatively new strategy. The Texas Rangers converted C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando into starters after they initially entered as relievers and subsequently advanced to play in two straight World Series.

It has backfired before, too. But whichever way you look at it, Bard has a legitimate shot to get in the rotation.

I have found that many Red Sox fans don’t like Will Middlebrooks and want him shipped out for whatever the Red Sox can get, usually a pitcher. I say he has a bright future as our 3B, and he is the one prospect you should hold on to. What are your thoughts?
-Daniel Champagne, via Facebook

You’re right, Will Middlebrooks does have bright future, Daniel. The 23 homers, 94 RBIs and .285 batting average from his 2011 stint — with Single-A Lowell, Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket — are all promising numbers.

If Middlebrooks were to be shipped, many wouldn’t lose sleep because he’s been viewed as expendable. With Kevin Youkilis, who is a fan favorite, manning third base, it’s inevitable that Middlebrooks would be a topic of trade rumors.

After Youkilis endured another injury-plagued year, the prospect of slotting Middlebrooks to third base is becoming more realistic. The Red Sox should definitely hold onto him because an infusion of youth will be necessary at some point.

Plus, the team should keep at least one of its budding stars considering they’ve traded away a chunk of the farm system.

How high is the Red Sox interest in Yoenis Cespedes? I feel like they may make a big move and it could be signing him.
-The Butcher

I believe there is interest in Yoenis Cespedes, but the Cuban outfielder’s asking price may be too high. As I mentioned before, the 26-year-old is reportedly looking for a deal that’s north of $50 million.

A week ago, the Red Sox were hit with a $3.6 million luxury tax. With this new era underway, Cherington’s goal is to reel back on the spending, save cash, and avoid footing another luxury tax bill.

Ryan Ludwick and Andruw Jones could wind up becoming more realistic options to fill the opening in the outfield.

How comfortable would you be with Bailey, who has already performed exceptionally well with a sub-3 [ERA] prior to last year but is injury prone?
-Tim, Maine

It’s certainly a concern. Since March 2010, the closer has battled tennis elbow, strained rib muscles, elbow inflammation and a forearm strain. He also underwent a minor procedure on his knee.

But for the first time in his short major-league career, Bailey said he’s healthy entering spring training. That has to count for something. But that’s why the Melancon acquisition earlier this month was also pivotal.

If the injury bug strikes Bailey, Melancon could possibly take over. Financially, Bailey isn’t much of a gamble because he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this season and will likely make around $3.5 million.

I would be comfortable on that end of the spectrum.

Why haven’t the Red Sox done anything productive? They have let a lot of pitching talent just walk away from them? Was last year not an eye-opener that they need pitchers? What exactly are they doing? Dice-K is hit or miss and Lackey was the worst signing ever in Sox history we need young pitching and they are sitting around doing nothing.
-Bobby, Mount Holly, NJ

*Disclaimer: Bobby asked this question before the Bailey trade. Considering the question is centered on starting pitching, it’s still worth taking answering.

For the time being, the Red Sox are playing it safe on the rotation front. In recent years, the Red Sox have discovered surprising gems in January and are hoping to replicate that success heading into the first two months of 2012.

Alfredo Aceves is the prime example of that strategy. Until Feb. 8 of this past year, the reliever was lingering around the free agent market. Although the Red Sox inked him late, Aceves churned out his best season, finishing 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA.

At the moment, the team hasn’t found the right deal for a starter. A little patience on that front could drive down the price tag on Hiroki Kuroda or Edwin Jackson.

Photo via Flickr/tjperr

Have questions for Didier Morais? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter at @DidierMorais or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week.

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