Whatever happened to Will Middlebrooks? It’s a five-word question with no simple answer. Not for the player and certainly not for the Red Sox.

It was only 27 months ago that the Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox to ensure playing time for Middlebrooks, a power-hitting third baseman with quarterback charisma. He was 23 and had moved quickly through the minor leagues after turning down a football scholarship to Texas A&M.

Within a few weeks of his debut in 2012, fans, teammates, and management were united in their desire to see more of Middlebrooks at third base and less of Youkilis.

“Middlebrooks needs to be in the lineup, that’s pretty clear,” general manager Ben Cherington said the day the Youkilis trade was made.

The Red Sox have played 408 games since and Middlebrooks has been in the starting lineup only 180 times because of injuries and underperformance. Now, at 26, he prepares for an offseason of uncertainty. It would be surprising at this point if the Red Sox do not seek a better alternative at third base, at least in the short term.

“It’s business. That’s how the game works,” Middlebrooks said. “Very rarely do you find guys who produce throughout their careers without any interruptions. Even the best players in the game have some tough years.”

But this season has gone beyond that. Middlebrooks is hitting .191 in 63 games with only two home runs and 19 RBIs. He has struck out 70 times in 215 at-bats and has an OPS of just .522.

Of the 319 major leaguers with at least 225 plate appearances this season, only 39-year-old Rays catcher Jose Molina has a lower OPS.

Undeniable talent

Earlier this month, after seeing his son strike out four times in a game against the Yankees, Tom Middlebrooks flew from his …read more