Middlebrooks considered a third baseman by Sox

Middlebrooks considered a third baseman by Sox

BOSTON -- Assuming Stephen Drew returns to the Red Sox in 2014 to play shortstop, and assuming Xander Bogaerts continues to progress at third base, Will Middlebrooks could ostensibly be the odd man out in Boston's infield.

While there are plenty of decisions to be made before making that conclusion, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was asked whether Middlebrooks could fit in at first base, also assuming free agent Mike Napoli signs elsewhere.

But the Red Sox still view Middlebrooks, who has been subject to trade rumors early this offseason, as a third baseman.

"You get to the offseason, and you're talking about a young player who, 15 months ago, was sort of taking the league by storm," Cherington said. "A lot of people including us were talking about him as one of the better young third basemen in the league. I don't think that changes just because he has a bit of a down period. He went through some lumps this year. He went back to Triple-A as a lot of good young players have had to do in their careers. He came back and played very well down the stretch, played much better.

"We got into the playoffs and we had another young player [Bogaerts] who was hot, and so he earned playing time. We're happy we have both of them. Having a young third baseman with Will's ability, power, athleticism, ability on both sides of the ball is a really important thing for the organization. I think you only consider moving someone like that off a spot if it's driven by the need of the team. We're not there yet. We see Will as a third baseman, and that's what he'll be focused on this offseason."

Middlebrooks hit 15 homers with a .288 average and .835 OPS in 267 at-bats in 2012, though his slow start in '13 was followed by a demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. He returned to the Majors in August and looked much better, hitting eight homers with a .276 average and an .805 OPS in 145 second-half at-bats.

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.