- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- A year ago, current Red Sox rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks was gaining a lot of attention from other organizations that were asking what it would take to acquire him in a trade.
In fact, the New York Mets wanted him in the worst way, but the Red Sox refused to part ways with the top prospect and it turned out to be a crucial decision for the club. The Red Sox knew Middlebrooks had the ability to replace veteran Kevin Youkilis at third in short order, but no one knew it would happen as quickly as it did.
When Youkilis went on the disabled list with a lower back strain in early May, Middlebrooks was called up and he made his big league debut on May 2. He quickly made major contributions and allowed the Red Sox to deal Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox on June 24.
An hour prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, Middlebrooks recalled what it was like for him at this time last summer.
“It’s an exciting time because you know if you’re in Double-A or Triple-A and you get dealt, you have a good chance to go to the big leagues, and that’s ultimately what you want to do,” Middlebrooks said. “In my case, I was excited, but I wanted to stay here because I wanted to play for the Red Sox. It’s one of those things that’s out of your control and you can’t worry about it. Everything has worked out so far and hopefully I can keep proving them right.”
Despite what could have been a lot of off-field distractions, Middlebrooks has maintained an even-keel attitude and his game has not been affected.
“This is my job. This is the one thing I have to do,” he said. “Nothing really gets into my head too much and nothing really keeps me away from my game. Once the game starts, once BP starts, I don’t think about much else.”
Unlike a few of his current teammates, Middlebrooks knew he didn’t have to worry about being part of a trade this season.
“It doesn’t bother me during the games, but yes, it eases your mind a little bit off the field because that’s the only time I really think about those things,” Middlebrooks said.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington on Tuesday spoke in general terms about his philosophy to protect the organization’s farm system, and made it a point to use Middlebrooks and pitcher Felix Doubront as examples.
“There’s a core group in our farm system that we really didn’t want to touch, that we feel represents the next generation of core impact players,” Cherington said. “We know how important those guys are going to be.
“We know that on our best teams, the ’07 and ’08 teams, that’s been a big part of those teams is bringing core impact players into it. We want to protect that opportunity. We started doing that this year with Middlebrooks and Doubront, and we need that to continue. There was a core group that we wanted to protect. I wouldn’t say protecting our farm system got in the way of a deal. I think we’ve always tried to protect the farm system.”
1dJoe McDonald, Special to ESPN.com