Buster Olney

Buster Olney on MFB: Red Sox expect renewed commitment from Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks

September 03, 2014 - 9:18 am

ESPN's Buster Olney joined Middays with MFB on Wednesday to discuss the future of the Red Sox as the team's miserable season moves into its final month. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page. The Red Sox and Yankees are in the midst of a series in Yankee Stadium, and Olney noted that you'd have to go back to the days of Babe Ruth (during one of his rare off seasons) to find a time when both teams were ranked so low in offense. "We're closing in on a century since we've seen these two teams struggle this much offensively," Olney said. "As you guys know, the Red Sox are always typically a good offensive team, the Yankees usually have their share of left-handed hitters who thrive in their home park. It just hasn't been the case this year. It's been a completely aberrational year. "And as they play tonight, I was talking to a person within the Yankees organization today, they feel like they're at the tipping point. The question is whether or not the Red Sox are going to shove them over the edge. Rusney Castillo started playing in the Red Sox minor league system last week, and he's moving up to Double-A this week. Olney said he isn't sure if the Cuban outfielder will make an appearance at Fenway before the season is over. "I think they should, because they think he's going to be part of the team next year, and why not?" Olney said. "I know, for example, a lot of teams are doing that these days. The Cubs are doing it with Javier Baez, they're doing with with Jorge Soler. ... If I were the Red Sox, sure. Because you're not going to pay a guy $72 million unless you think he's ready to translate right away. So, why not? It's a signed, sealed deal, so the arbitration clause doesn't come into it, you might as well throw him into the deep end of the pool." Jackie Bradley Jr., who was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 17, is expected to return to Boston for the last few weeks of the season, although his offensive struggles have continued with the PawSox. "[A return] would make sense," Olney said. "And if they don't, then let's face it, it would have to be taken as punitive. It would have to be taken as a sign from the Red Sox organization that they want Jackie to focus more on making adjustments. That's the big question now about him within the Red Sox organization: Will he make adjustments? Because I know that during the course of the year when he was approached about that, his response was, 'Look, I'm fine. I'll work my way through it. I feel good.' "Now that we're near the end of the season, they feel like that just wasn't done in the way that it should have been done. And they're going to want him to do that going into next year, and they're going to want to have him respond. And given the fact that they have this volume of outfielders, I really think next spring is going to be absolutely huge for him. "And this winter's going to be huge -- I was going to bring this up, too -- for Will Middlebrooks. I know that there is desire within the Red Sox organization that Middlebrooks go and play winter ball to get more at-bats, to get more experience and to turn the corner. And if he doesn't, then I think there's a good chance he's going to spend next year in the minor leagues. They don't want to give him away. And I heard this from a couple of different teams, that when they approach the Red Sox, the Red Sox know that they have a really talented guy in Middlebrooks who hits for power, but they want to give it every opportunity for that to happen with them, because they know if they trade him now it's essentially going to be at a cut rate, and it's not going to be at what they believe his value to be. So if he's going to be in the big leagues next year I think winter ball is going to be a big part of it, and a good spring training would have to be a big part of it." Following Tuesday's win over the Yankees in which Xander Bogaerts went 4-for-5, the shortstop said he realized that he was taking too many first-pitch fastballs this season. "I do actually think it's part of an overall trend in baseball where, for 15 years everyone was seeking out hitters who could draw walks, who could work deep into the count. But there's the thing: Pitchers are increasingly aware of those numbers. ... In that case, and Bogaerts certainly would fit that category, they're just taking advantage of them. Mike Trout is dealing with the exact same issue right now. "And more and more what you're hearing from hitters is: 'You know what, maybe we should be looking for opportunities to do damage as opposed to working the count, because the best pitch we might see might be that first-pitch cookie fastball.' I do think you're going to see an adjustment from hitters big picture going into next year in terms of the approach, because I've heard that type of thing from so many guys this year, whether it be hitting coaches or managers or players." Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton remains the big fish other teams would like to hook, but Miami has shown no willingness to trade him." "He's one of the best hitters in baseball," Olney said. "The question that I asked of a lot of executives over the past week was: Do you think the Marlins will trade him? And the answer was complicated, because as we talked about last week, their owner, Jeff Loria, is a competitive guy. He probably is willing to pay Stanton whatever is required to keep him. But if Stanton isn't going to sign there, then at some point they're going to have to seriously consider trading him. "What I've gotten back from a whole bunch of people is, if they wait until the offseason in 2015-2016, 15 months from now, the possible return will drop significantly. On the other hand, if you trade him this winter you can get a boatload. And the other thing, too, is, because he's going to get such a big contract with his next deal -- and I heard estimates, 250, 300 million dollars --- he can essentially use that future contract as a no-trade clause by telling the Marlins, 'Look, I'm not going to sign with anybody, I'm just going to became a free agent.' And no team is going to give the Marlins what they want in return if they know they can't sign the guy. And so he can basically go, 'Well, I'm going to be a free agent,' but also go wink-wink, nod-nod, 'If you steer me to the Dodgers, then I'll sign. Or if you steer me to the Red Sox or the Cubs,' or whichever team he wants. "And the other question that I asked a lot of people was: Who is absolutely best suited to get him now? And No. 1 on everyone's list: Chicago Cubs. No. 2, the Dodgers. And the Red Sox and the Yankees and other teams were much further down the list. Because the question I heard a lot about the Red Sox was: Who could anchor a trade for Stanton in the way that if you call the Cubs, Kris Bryant, their third base prospect, he could do it; the Dodgers, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, the shortstop in the organization, those guys are considered to be big-time, top-five prospects. And the Red Sox are not perceived to have that guy." As for the notion that the Red Sox could trade Castillo, Olney said that's a possibility if Boston paid part of Castillo's salary. But even then, noted Olney, "The one fly in that ointment is that the Marlins were thought to be not that interested in Castillo. So maybe they don't view him as a high-end guy." For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.