Will Middlebrooks is trying to decide whether to play winter ball this offseason. (Getty Images)

Will Middlebrooks on winter ball decision: 'It's not like I'm going against [the Red Sox]'

September 05, 2014 - 4:15 am

NEW YORK -- Ultimately, Will Middlebrooks and the Red Sox want the same thing. Both the player and his team want to see the soon-to-be-26-year-old put in the best possible position to succeed on the field in 2015. Both parties want Middlebrooks to shed the desperate struggles that, after Thursday's 0-for-3 performance that included a pair of strikeouts, see the third baseman hitting .180 with a .247 OBP and .263 slugging mark. Middlebrooks does not shy from the fact that his year has been dreadful, that he has failed to live up to the standards that he expects from himself. The team wants him to be better. He wants to be better. "I know I'm a good player. When I'm healthy -- no excuses -- but when I'm healthy, I know the type of player I am. I know the impact I can make in the game," said Middlebrooks. "That's not cockiness. I just know the player I am. I know the tools I have. I know what I can do. I've done it. That adds to the frustration when things aren't going well, because I know the player I am. It's hard not to be able to show it." Both Middlebrooks and the Sox believe that he's capable of moving beyond his two seasons of offensive futility, and they're motivated to make that happen. But despite that common goal, the two are working to achieve consensus on the best means of achieving it. The Sox believe that, more than anything, after missing so much time over the last two years due to four stints on the disabled list (with just 48 games in the big leagues this year, and 29 more in the minors), Middlebrooks needs baseball repetitions, to experience consistent time on the field to improve his pitch recognition and return to being the confident hitter he was in his impressive 2012 rookie campaign. Moreover, the Sox need to see Middlebrooks produce at a high level on a sustained basis if they are to commit to giving him a meaningful role in the big leagues for next season. Middlebrooks doesn't disagree with the value of repetitions or with the idea that he needs to demonstrate production to earn a big league job for next year. But given the health woes he's experienced, he feels that the most important thing he can do to ensure his productivity in future years is to use the offseason to get into tremendous shape to avoid the kinds of physical setbacks that have prevented him from gaining the consistent play that he and the Sox both want him to get. And so, for now, Middlebrooks is somewhat hesitant about the team's stated desire (articulated in recent days by manager John Farrell, GM Ben Cherington and assistant GM Mike Hazen) for him to play in winter ball. He hasn't ruled out the possibility, but he's hoping to get more information in order to make the decision about what form his preparations for 2015 should take. "It's not like I'm going against them. It's not like a butting of heads. It's not like that at all," said Middlebrooks. "They understand where I'm coming from and I understand where they're coming from. ... There hasn't been a whole lot of conversation about it yet, because we're still playing ball. We're still doing this daily. We haven't really had a chance to sit down and talk about it. There will be more discussions about it. "It's tough. I do understand the organizational side of it and what they need to feel or see, but then there's my side of it -- I want to go get healthy, I want to go get stronger, I want to get fresh, turn the page and get ready for next year. It's a tough decision," he continued. "I just feel like, do I take the time and go get healthy and let some of these things go away, not swing a bat for a while, or do I get the consistent at-bats in games for a couple months and then have the healing pushed back and take more time for everything? "It's a tough decision. I don't know. That decision hasn't been made yet. There's going to be discussions we have this month. Ultimately, I think my health is my biggest necessity for my career. I understand what they need to do for next year. I do get that, and I respect that. I've been here since I was 18 years old. They've done a lot for me." Asked if winter ball and getting healthy for the coming year had to represent an either/or, whether the two might not be mutually exclusive, Middlebrooks said that he was trying to figure out precisely that matter. "That's the part I don't know. That's the part I'm just not sure of. I don't know," he said. "That's something that time will tell. I don't have an answer for you." Still, Middlebrooks understands that the team needs to see more from him than he's shown to date in 2014 if he is to be the everyday third baseman -- or to have even a complementary big league role -- next year. He won't be handed an Opening Day job based on the memories of his performance as a 23-year-old. "I get that. We're not a team that's looking, like, OK, maybe we can win in three or four years. That's not the Boston Red Sox. We want to win now," said Middlebrooks. "Obviously, this year being almost over and not being great, we're looking to win next year. We're not looking to win down the road. I understand that. They need to know. I'm hoping to have a strong month [of September] so I can give them a better feeling."