Most Boston Red Sox offseason trade rumors and speculation on free agent signings focus on the team's greatest area of need — pitching. After dealing away three-fifths of their starting rotation by the trade deadline — including a swap that sent ace lefthander Jon Lester to Oakland — Boston's suddenly youthful, inexperienced pitching staff has looked anything but ready to lead the team on another worst-to-first run in 2015.
But the mound corps is far from the only area the last-place Red Sox need to upgrade. Boston sports a gaping hole at the hot corner, where the Red Sox have not had a dependable third baseman since dealing away Kevin Youkilis after he clashed with then-manager Bobby Valentine in 2012.
The injury-prone Youkilis was a third baseman by trade, but found the bulk of his playing time at first base during his Red Sox tenure as the Red Sox went with veterans Mike Lowell and Adrian Beltre from 2006 through 2010.
"But when Will Middlebrooks, then one of the Red Sox top prospects, made his explosive Major League debut in the otherwise lost season of 2012, Boston appeared to have landed its third baseman of the future. The 2007 5th-round pick out of Liberty Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas, blasted 15 home runs in just 286 plate appearances that year, finishing with an impressive.288/.325./.509 line."
"While the Red Sox have expressed confidence and Middlebrooks and publicly, General Manager Ben Cherington has given no indication that the 26-year-old won't be the starting Boston third baseman on April 6, when the team opens the season in Philadelphia (the first inter-league opener in Red Sox history), Middlebrooks has appeared in just 65 games this season and has been unproductive at the plate, posting an anemic OPS just over the ".500" mark."
The Red Sox have seen Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, and, most recently, Garin Cecchini, at the position this season, but baseball insiders are speculating that none of them will be at that spot next year. Instead, rumors have a surprising name slotted in at the Red Sox third base slot — the "Panda" himself, Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants have said they want to re-sign the free agent third baseman, but according to reports, Sandoval — who has battled weight issues his whole career — will demand a five-year deal at $90 million.
The Red Sox have been averse to long-term deals under Cherington's stewardship, but if they could talk him down to a shorter contract with a bigger per-year salary figure, a resurgent Red Sox squad could prove an attractive landing spot for Sandoval, whose consistent, if not exceptional, offensive production would provide Boston Manager John Farrell with a certain peace of mind he has yet to experience when he looks down at the third base position.
Sandoval has also been a part of the Giants' pair of World Series championships in 2010 and 2012, allowing him to bring valuable experience to the Red Sox clubhouse for a franchise that has brought three World Series titles to Boston in the past 10 years, but will feature a revamped, mostly young roster in 2015.