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Left side of infield starts to come into focus for Red Sox

July 31, 2013

Xander Bogaerts

PAWTUCKET – In economic terms, the Red Sox were sitting on a surplus of shortstops and third basemen. As the Jake Peavy trade demonstrated, the organization was comfortable with putting that surplus to good use.

The parent club was not going to field a team that included Jose Iglesias, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini on the same roster at the same time. And as Iglesias is a free agent at the end of the season, the Red Sox were able to sidestep a potential off-season topic by trading away the one-time perceived starting shortstop of the future to Detroit.

“That’s the depth and something [Boston General Manager] Ben Cherington and the front office can use to their advantage,” said Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina.

Swinging a deal for Peavy may prove even more valuable for Boston in the event Clay Buchholz is unable to take the mound again the season. Perhaps down the road, the Red Sox will reflect back on the acquisition of the former National League Cy Young Award winner, understanding that July 30, 2013 was also the day when the picture of Boston’s left side of the infield started to come into focus.

“We have so much depth with great players on the left side of the infield in the minors, it’s unbelievable,” Cecchini recently stated at the MLB Futures Game that took place at New York’s Citi Field. “I don’t know many other organizations that have guys like Bogaerts, Middlebrooks and Iglesias on the left side of the infield. That’s ridiculous, that’s awesome. That’s a credit to the Red Sox.”

The first domino to fall was to see which one of these aforementioned players would fall into the category of “trade bait.” Middlebrooks and Bogaerts saw their names dangling out there in days leading up to Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline. As DiSarcina pointed out, a player who was also part of a crowded shortstop/third baseman picture, yet largely flew under the radar of the trading scene, ending up being the one dealt away.

“All these names are floated around and in the end, it’s the one guy who’s kind of off to the side,” said DiSarcina about the trade winds that grabbed hold of Iglesias and carried him to his new baseball address.

Instead of having four players looking to claim two starting jobs, the Red Sox have whittled their field down to three possible candidates. Given their status as Triple-A teammates over the past month, it’s been easy to envision a Red Sox squad that in the not-so-distant future that features Middlebrooks manning the hot corner and Bogaerts at shortstop.

But let’s not forget about Cecchini in Portland. The 22-year-old third baseman is hitting .340 between two levels this season. While 2012 first-round selection Deven Marrero represents another intriguing possibility, the shortstop is presently based in Single-A Salem. He still has a ways to go before becoming viewed as a possible heir to a position that’s seen plenty of faces come and go since the Red Sox traded away Nomar Garciaparra at the July 2004 deadline.

There are few additional wrinkles that the Red Sox may need to iron out. For starters, what happens if the Red Sox become serious with moving Bogaerts to third base on a more permanent basis? As DiSarcina has stated a few times, the idea of exposing the 20-year-old to a foreign position is nothing more than putting another tool in his tool chest.

What then happens to Middlebrooks and Cecchini? In the case of the former, shifting Middlebrooks across the diamond to play first base represents one option, especially in the event the Red Sox elect not to re-sign Mike Napoli following the season.

As for Cecchini, the Louisiana native mentioned that when he was part of Team USA’s 18-and-under club in 2009, he was part of a roster that included current Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado as the team’s starting shortstop and present Red Sox farmhand Sean Coyle at third base.

Understanding that he wasn’t going to leapfrog Machado or Coyle, Cecchini held down the fort as Team USA’s primary left fielder.
“Anywhere but catcher; I can play first base or left field,” Cecchini replied about the idea of cracking the major leagues at a position that’s different from the one he currently patrols. “If you can hit, play defense and help Boston win, they’re going to find a spot for you.”

The 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline came and went Wednesday with Bogaerts, Middlebrooks and Cecchini still official property of the Red Sox. The fact that Boston held on to the highly regarded trio is a strong indication that Boston considers all of them an important part of the future.

“It’s an honor for the organization to feel so highly about me, not trading me away,” said Bogaerts.
Only time will tell how everything shakes out, but this much is clear now that Iglesias is property of the Tigers: the Red Sox are hedging their bets to the homegrown route.

“I don’t like to play GM, but I understand the reasoning why teams like to bring up players who they know the best,” Middlebrooks said.

Added DiSarcina, “The opportunity is still right there for them. The window hasn’t closed. When you’re a homegrown kid and you’re drafted and signed by an organization, those people are invested in you.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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