During the playoffs this year, Peter Abraham tweeted out something along the lines of “Mike Moustakas is why the Red Sox are reluctant to give up on Will Middlebrooks.” I didn’t quite get the reference, since it doesn’t appear that Moustakas is really something you’d want to wait for. But, that’s irrelevant. He suggested that there’s a reason to wait. At the time I thought, that’s a good idea…but how long should you wait for someone to emerge?
Then, the other day Buster Olney tossed out a scenario in which the Orioles should consider trading Manny Machado. The basic premise is that as he returns from injuries the Orioles would probably be reluctant to sign him to an extension until he proves he can stay healthy for a year or two. By the time that happens, Machado might be close enough to free agency that he may decide it’s worth it just to wait for that, as opposed to signing an extension. If all that’s the case, maybe the Orioles should cut their losses and trade Machado now.
Which is similar to the scenario the Sox find themselves in with Will Middlebrooks. I think we can all agree that he has talent. I also think we all agree that he hasn’t put it all together yet. The only real discussion is the probability of that word, “yet.” Will yet come this year? Next year? In five years? Can the Sox wait around?
This isn’t forty years ago. When Carl Yastrzemski struggled his rookie year, I bet there was no thought to cutting their losses and dealing him away. After all, there was a benefit to waiting. Even if it took him a year or two or five to develop, the payback was too great. Even if they waited five years, if their expectations were correct, they’d have a hall of fame caliber player on their roster for 18 years after that. I’d tread water for 5 years if I get that sort of return on the investment.
But, this isn’t forty years ago. As the Machado example illustrates, there isn’t the plan that the Sox will have someone one their roster for the next 23 years. It’s more like a ten year max. Jacoby Ellsbury but up one MVP season, but was let go after seven seasons. Even after signing a team friendly extension, John Lester was dealt after 8.5 seasons. Even the incredibly too long albatross of a contract they gave Dustin Pedroia only assures he’ll be in Boston 15 seasons.
So, if that’s your cap…how much can you afford to wait for a prospect to develop?
Middlebrooks has been with the Sox for parts of three seasons this far. Some parts really good. Some parts, not so much. If the Sox were thinking about signing him to an extension, wouldn’t they want at least one good season out of him? Heck, Ellsbury did that, and the Sox still didn’t sign him. (Admittedly, that was as much Ellsbury’s decision as theirs.) So, would the Sox need two good seasons in order to commit? Sox, if Middlebrooks puts it all together this season, and makes the all-star team…do they wait for another year to prove it? If that’s the case, they’d be right up on his impending free agency. At that point, he’d be wise to wait, and hit the market coming off three good years. If that’s the case, he’s probably gone and the Sox will be onto the next prospect.
So, can the Sox wait?
In some ways, they have to. You can’t keep turning over your young players and sticking in the next batch. If that were the case, what about Bogaerts? Does he only get another year to prove himself? Bradley? Where does it end?
It really has to come down to opportunity. Obviously, if Middlebrooks can be used as a chip to get a proven major leaguer, go for it. That’s the same for any young player. If they can get great proven talent in a trade, move them. Beyond that, the Sox don’t need a bat at third if they have one everywhere else. They can afford to wait a bit, and see what happens. If Middlebrooks get to free agency, and the Sox decide at that point he’s not going to be what they hoped, let him walk.
Until then, it just doesn’t make sense.