BOSTON — Will Middlebrooks will not play winter ball this offseason, according to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington.
The Red Sox recommended winter ball as a way for Middlebrooks, who was limited to 346 plate appearances between the majors and Triple-A Pawtucket this season, to garner additional at-bats before arriving at spring training. The third baseman has been dealing with a right hand injury, though, and instead will focus on returning to full health.
Middlebrooks missed the Red Sox’s final six games because of his hand issue. The 26-year-old will continue to receive treatment, but the belief is the ailment will resolve itself in time. No procedure appears necessary, according to Cherington.
While Middlebrooks’ decision to not play winter ball is unsurprising given the hesitance he previously expressed, the Red Sox certainly were hoping he’d take their advice. Middlebrooks has underperformed each of the last two seasons — missing large chunks of each — and it’s unclear what he’ll bring to the table in 2015.
“I don’t think whether or not he plays winter ball should be a determining factor on where he is next March or April,” Cherington said Monday at Fenway Park. “We talked to him about it. We felt like there was some merit. But players have to make decisions that they think is in their best interest. He has reasons for this and so that’s what he’s going to do.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell revealed recently that outfielder Rusney Castillo, catcher Christian Vazquez and left-handed pitcher Edwin Escobar are primed for some form of winter ball. Middlebrooks’ case obviously is much different, though, as the Red Sox could wind up with a big hole at third base again next season if the former fifth-round pick can’t bounce back.
“We’re going to present information and what we feel like might be helpful, but ultimately offseasons belong to players and they need to do what they think is in their best interests,” Cherington said. “He gave it consideration. He thought about it. I think he understood where we were coming from. I think he just feels like it’s in his best interests to focus on an offseason without playing, to get strong, get ready for spring training.”
Middlebrooks hit .191 with two homers, 19 RBIs, a .522 OPS and 70 strikeouts in 63 major league games this season, marking the second year in a row he showed regression. Cherington said Monday the club could look to upgrade at third base this offseason, but he also expressed confidence in the young third basemen — Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini and Brock Holt — available internally.