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Inbox: Middlebrooks primed for bounce-back year?

Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne responds to fans' questions

Why does it seem everyone is more forgiving of Mike Napoli's slumps and strikeouts than they are of Will Middlebrooks'? Middlebrooks projects power numbers of 30 homers/100 RBIs at a low cost. Also, just like David Ortiz, he could be at his best once he is two years removed from his wrist issue.
-- Scott G., Camp Hill, Pa.

You make some valid points. It's easy to give up on a young player who has a bad year, but look at how people felt about Middlebrooks just a year ago. Perhaps he will get healthier and make some of the adjustments at the plate he couldn't make fast enough in 2013. I think there's a strong chance Middlebrooks will be with the Red Sox when they gather in Fort Myers, Fla., come February. One thing that doesn't often make good business sense is trading a player when his value is lower than it should be.

If Stephen Drew signs with another team, is Middlebrooks going to be the starting third baseman with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop? Or will general manager Ben Cherington look for another option to play part-time at third?
-- Aaron S., Amesbury, Mass.

I think that would be the alignment the Red Sox would go into Spring Training with. However, in that scenario, I'm guessing Cherington would look for a pretty experienced backup, ideally someone who could play short and third in the event Bogaerts or Middlebrooks underperforms or gets injured.

With question marks at first and third, will the Sox consider bringing back Kevin Youkilis to supply some depth?
-- Alex A., Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada

I'm guessing not. The Red Sox had a chance to bring back Youkilis last year, and there didn't seem to be a whole lot of interest on either side. Youkilis had another season in 2013 in which his health betrayed him, and he wasn't much of a factor in his only season with the Yankees. I'm guessing he'll go somewhere else, perhaps to a National League team, where his defensive versatility would be of great use with double switches, etc.

Do you think it's worth it to lock up Napoli for at least three years? Or would that be a mistake?
-- Andrew B., Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Sox were perfectly willing to lock up Napoli for three years last offseason, only to see what they determined was a red flag, via the hip issue that was spotted in the MRI. The Red Sox and their training staff have now had a full year to monitor Napoli on a daily basis. Whether it's enough to give them the faith to sign him for three years remains to be seen. But one thing became clear this season: Napoli has the mentality to succeed in Boston. He had a prolonged slump and didn't let it get in his head. Instead, Napoli came up with big hits at a time of year when they were most needed.

Who is the gentleman who sits behind home plate at Fenway with the yellow earphones on?
-- Valmont O., Richmond, Va.

The man you are referring to is Jeremy Kapstein, who is the senior advisor/special projects for the Red Sox. Kapstein has spent decades in the game and was perhaps the first influential player agent back in the mid-1970s when free agency started. He was also the president of the Padres in the late 1980s. Kapstein has had a very interesting career in baseball, and he is one of the friendliest people around Fenway Park. He is a native Rhode Islander.

Are the Red Sox looking at the possibility of signing Brian McCann as their catcher? And I assume David Ross will be the backup once again.
-- Samir L., Auckland, New Zealand

McCann's left-handed bat would look real nice in Boston's batting order. However, his price could be high given his age (29) and power for a catcher. McCann has a lot of history with Ross, so perhaps that would give the Red Sox an advantage in the recruiting process. Ross and McCann had a great partnership in Atlanta. And yes, Ross is definitely the backup catcher again next season.

Do the Red Sox have any plans in the future with Ryan Kalish? If they don't keep Jacoby Ellsbury, do you see a platoon with Jackie Bradley Jr.?
-- Jack L., Winchester, Mass.

The plan for Kalish is for him to get as healthy as possible and regain his feel for the game. It has been a real tough last three seasons for Kalish. Ideally, the club could get him regular at-bats in the Minor Leagues for a good chunk of time so he can ramp back up and be ready for life in the Majors again. As for a platoon with Bradley, that wouldn't make a ton of sense, considering they are both left-handed hitters.

In your opinion, why is it that people don't seem to see Mike Carp as an everyday player? He is young, has decent stats in his limited time and has pretty good pop in his bat.
-- Malena D., Charleston, S.C.

The main reason is that Carp has never done it before. His high for at-bats in a season is 290, back in 2011 with the Mariners. I agree with you that Carp is intriguing. He was solid in limited opportunities last season, and it will be interesting to see if his role evolves. This past season, Carp was blocked by Daniel Nava, who had a similar skill set and played the same positions. I think Carp's playing time for 2014 all depends on the construction of the roster. There could be some scenarios in which he sees more time. In other words, if Napoli leaves, perhaps Carp could be part of a platoon situation at first base while also seeing some time in the outfield.

Will the Red sox move Brandon Workman to the starting rotation?
-- Drew H., Trumbull, Conn.

Down the line, that is certainly a scenario that could be play. In the immediate future, given how deep Boston's rotation is, I think Workman fits better in the bullpen. He was an unsung performer in the postseason, that's for sure.

If Ellsbury goes elsewhere, who could end up being the leadoff hitter in his place? Jacoby certainly was a productive and exciting player to watch, and he will not be easy to replace.
-- Ken T., Fort Myers, Fla.

Ellsbury would be tough to replace, because he has all the skills you want in a leadoff hitter. The Sox could go a less conventional way and have Nava lead off. Though he doesn't have great speed, Nava is one of the best on-base players in the American League. Shane Victorino is another player who could make some things happen at the top of the order.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Brandon Workman, Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Brian McCann, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Mike Carp