Red Sox could have traded Middlebrooks, happy now they didn't

NEW YORK -- The Red Sox could have traded Will Middlebrooks.

They needed bullpen help. They wanted Francisco Rodriguez. The Brewers asked for Middlebrooks.

The Red Sox said no.

Middlebrooks, at the time, had been exiled to Triple-A Pawtucket. Even though the Red Sox were struggling at third base (for a while, Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt were playing there), Middlebrooks wasn't getting called up.

But he wasn't getting traded, either, at least not for a lot more than K-Rod (who went to the Orioles instead).

And as the Red Sox searched the market for a third baseman, one Sox official told me, "[general manager Ben Cherington] still thinks we could get something out of Middlebrooks this year."

Good call, as it turns out.

The Red Sox brought Middlebrooks back to the big leagues on Aug. 10. In 23 games since, going into Friday night, he had a .347 batting average and a .972 OPS. The big power he showed last season has returned.

"When he gets a pitch to drive, he's doing damage," said one scout who sees the Red Sox frequently. "That home run he hit [Thursday] was loud. Earlier this year, he was taking pitches like that. He just looks a lot more confident."

Middlebrooks blames his early struggles on back trouble, and says the biggest difference has been that he's healthy now. He will admit that he has also made some adjustments at the plate, allowing the bat to stay in the zone longer.

Middlebrooks will turn 25 on Monday. It's hardly unprecedented for a young hitter to struggle, or even to need a trip back to the minor leagues.

What's interesting here is how quickly the improvement has come, how quickly Cherington's faith has been rewarded, and how Middlebrooks can now play a significant role for a first-place team.

"I think he went through what a lot of young players have gone through," Cherington said.

Some of those young players end up getting traded before they succeed. Middlebrooks could easily have been one of them, but the Red Sox said no.

Right now, that looks to have been a good call.

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