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Inbox: What's in Middlebrooks' future?

Beat reporter Ian Browne answers Red Sox fans' questions

Why do the Red Sox want to keep Will Middlebrooks? It seems to be he hasn't really preformed that well since he was called up the first time.
-- Doug D., Westfield, Ind.

Were you saying the same thing a year ago? Middlebrooks was probably the biggest bright spot in the depressing 2012 season. Who's to say he can't bounce back and become the player everyone expected? Middlebrooks is hardly the first player to struggle in his sophomore season. I don't think anyone has given up on him yet. There's no reason to. Let's see what he learned from last year first, and how well he can adjust.

Assuming the Red Sox keep all their starters from last year (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster) what will they do? Will they go with a six-man rotation?
-- Josh H., McLean, Va.

No, they won't go with a six-man rotation. If all six pitchers are healthy and throwing the ball well by the end of Spring Training, there will probably be a trade to alleviate the logjam. There's no need to force something now. Inevitably, something usually happens to somebody, and that depth becomes a key factor. Aside from Buchholz, the Red Sox were very fortunate from a health standpoint with their starting staff in 2013. It's a lot to ask for that to happen again.

Would the Red Sox really consider trading Lackey after he gave them so much down the stretch? I don't think they have a better pitcher in clutch games.
-- Bill T., Ypsilanti, Mich.

Barring a stunning development, such as the Red Sox signing Masahiro Tanaka, I don't see any way the Red Sox will look to trade Lackey. He proved how instrumental he is to the team last season and how much he relishes the big moment. Lackey has one more substantial pay day coming to him in 2014, and then the Red Sox have him at the Major League minimum in '15. This is a very club-friendly deal going forward, so I have every expectation Lackey will finish his contract in Boston.

Which lesser-known players out of the farm system do you believe will make their MLB debuts this year and/or could make big impacts as well as add depth on the 2014 team?
-- Chris C., Londonderry, N.H.

It all depends on what needs arise in Boston, but there are quite a few prospects knocking on the door. Anthony Ranaudo has an arm that a lot of people are excited about, and he will start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Catcher Christian Vazquez has a cannon arm and if he can make enough of a leap offensively, you could see him in Boston at some point soon. Outfielder Bryce Brentz also brings a lot of different things to the table with his skills and hit 17 homers in 326 at-bats for Pawtucket in 2013.

Does Mike Napoli have any plans to reduce his strikeout ratio in 2014?
-- Elmer B. St. Johnsbury, Vt.

I don't think it was ever Napoli's plan to strike out a lot. His swing just lends to that hit-or-miss result a lot of times. I'm guessing you weren't complaining when he came up with several big hits in the postseason. The strikeouts are just part of the equation with Napoli. As long as his slugging percentage, on-base percentage and power totals stay at their projections, the Red Sox aren't going to spend a lot of time worrying about the strikeouts.

Why don't the Red Sox move Shane Victorino back to center and put Daniel Nava in right?
-- Noah B., Watertown, Mass.

The Red Sox love Victorino in right. He is a superior fielder out there, which is not easy to do in Fenway Park. Nava has done a lot to make himself an above-average outfielder, but he's better in right than left and forms a near perfect platoon with Jonny Gomes. Why mess with something that works so well?

Looking at the deals Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed, what do you think about the amount given to A.J. Pierzynski?
-- Moses I., Boston

The contract seemed like it was right at market value considering Pierzynski's track record. The only risk with the deal is his age. Sometimes catchers can start to fade fast in their late 30s. Pierzynski will be out to prove he is one of the few that can stand the test of time.

What capacity is Jason Varitek serving with the Red Sox? What do you see in his future with the club?
-- Chuck S., Yorktown, Va.

Varitek is currently doing just about every type of front-office work for general manager Ben Cherington. He works with Minor Leaguers, he scouts players, he evaluates film, he charts games. I think Varitek is trying to become as well-rounded as possible to keep his options open for the future. He could make a fine manager at some point, whether it's in Boston or somewhere else. It also wouldn't surprise me if Varitek becomes a pitching coach. His future in the game seems bright.

I saw Henry Owens beat the Harrisburg Senators this past season. Impressive stuff. What are the plans in 2014 for him?
-- Bruce M. Arlington, Va.

I'm not sure if Owens will start the season at Double-A or Triple-A, but he'll definitely be in Pawtucket by early to midseason, I'd think. He's only 21 years old, so it probably wouldn't hurt for him to have another full season in the Minors. But as usual, the player will dictate when he is ready. I know there is an awful lot of excitement surrounding Owens.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Felix Doubront, Daniel Nava, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, Will Middlebrooks, Clay Buchholz