Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Things are going well for the Boston Red Sox.
A little too well, actually.
With David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia going Rambo on American League pitching, manager John Farrell hasn't had to do much this season besides remembering to show up to the park on time.
Strong hitting and a resurgent Clay Buchholz have propelled the Red Sox to first place in the American League East. But for them to stay there, Farrell is eventually going to have to make some tough decisions.
The toughest one might come on Monday when the Sox travel to Florida for the start of a three-game set with Tampa Bay. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is eligible to come off the DL at any time and it seems likely that Monday will be the day he finally returns to the Red Sox lineup.
That means somebody is going to lose their job.
Jose Iglesias was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to fill in after Middlebrooks hurt his back. Three weeks later, he's not quite ready to give the job back to Middlebrooks.
Iglesias has been impossibly good at the plate, hitting .451 in his first 22 games. During that stretch, he's logged an on base percentage (.494) that would make Barry Bonds jealous and he's played gold glove defense at three different positions (second, shortstop and third).
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, was the reason Boston traded away longtime third baseman Kevin Youkilis last summer. In 2012, Middlebrooks hit .288 with 15 HR and 54 RBI in 75 games before a broken wrist ended his season in early August.
The Red Sox have played much better this season, but while that's been happening, Middlebrooks has gone in the other direction. Three of his eight homers came in one game and his .201 batting average is one of the worst on the team. Thirty-one percent of Middlebrooks' at bats this season have ended in strikeouts.
The plan was always for Iglesias to be the starting shortstop for Boston in 2014, which is when Stephen Drew's contract expires. But why wait when he's ready now?
Well, for a couple of reasons. If Iglesias stays in the majors and ends up platooning with Middlebrooks at third, he won't be an everyday player. At Triple-A, the 23-year-old would be getting regular at bats and in the long run, that might be better than spending the next four months chewing on sunflower seeds in the Red Sox dugout.
Boston also has Pedro Ciriaco, a polished hitter (.287 in 348 MLB at bats) with good speed (16 steals in 76 games last season). The problem is that Ciriaco is a huge liability in the field (seven errors in 27 games). At age 27, Ciriaco also doesn't have as much upside as Iglesias (23) or Middlebrooks (24).
At his best, Middlebrooks is easily the most dangerous fantasy player out of the three. Even if he never hits above .250, Middlebrooks still has 30-HR potential. You won't find many corner infielders with that kind of power.
Iglesias, on the other hand, is a bit of a wild card. How does a .244 career hitter in Triple-A suddenly bat .400 when he comes to the majors? Fantasy owners have to make a judgment call: is this really who Iglesias is or is it just a hot streak soon to be followed by months of mediocrity?
The other option the Red Sox have is to trade Drew, which would allow Middlebrooks to start at third and Iglesias to become the everyday shortstop. Drew hasn't played poorly (.232, 5 HR, 26 RBI), but it's going to be difficult to trade him because of his high salary (he's making $9 million this season). For another team to agree to a deal, the Red Sox would probably have to pay for most of Drew's contract.
Boston's infield conundrum will come to a head later this week. The outfield riddle is already happening.
With Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury earning a combined $22 million this season, the Red Sox are obligated to play them everyday. That leaves left field up for grabs.
Injuries to Victorino and Ellsbury have allowed Daniel Nava (.304, 8 HR, 40 RBI) and Mike Carp (.317, 5 HR, 19 RBI) to see regular at bats. Now that Victorino and Ellsbury are both healthy, one is going to have to play more than the other.
Against lefties, Nava seems like the obvious choice. He's a switch hitter as opposed to Carp, who only bats left-handed. Carp doesn't have as much defensive flexibility as Nava either. He's mainly a left fielder, while Nava can play either corner outfield position.
In a perfect world, one of them could DH but that's impossible because of David Ortiz (.325, 13 HR, 48 RBI).
First place in the toughest division in baseball isn't given. It's earned.
Now it's time for Farrell to show us what he and the Red Sox are really made of.