No one has embodied the heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox more over the last decade than Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz may get all the accolades, and rightfully so, for being the muscle behind the three championships the team has won since 2004, but Pedroia is the pounding heart of this team. But, as everyone knows, a heart does not beat on forever, especially when it beats as hard as Pedroia plays.
Pedroia had the worst season of his career in 2014. He hit a career-low .278 and drove in only 53 runs despite hitting in the three-hole in the lineup for a large portion of the season. His seven home runs were also a career-low.
Pedroia is 31 years old. He is signed through the 2021 season. If he looks like this as a 31-year-old second baseman, what will he look like as a 38-year-old second baseman? Maybe Red Sox fans just need to look a few hundred miles to the west and take notice of the way Derek Jeter looked in his final season. And that may be the best case scenario.
To be fair to Pedroia, he has had to battle injuries to his hands and feet the last four seasons. That just goes with the territory when you play as hard as Pedroia does. He plays as hard in game one of the regular season as he does in game one of the World Series. And that is the problem. Twice in the last three years Pedroia has sustained hand injuries in the first week of the season that has hindered his hitting throughout the season.
Which all leads me to this– Pedroia has the potential to be a Derek Jeter-type liability for the Red Sox for the next seven seasons. We have seen the best of Dustin Pedroia. He has made a career of proving his doubters wrong, and there is no doubt that he will be more motivated than ever to do so again. But at some point, genetics take over. Father Time is undefeated. Age and his small stature will catch up to him, if they haven’t already.
The problem is the Red Sox have someone in their organization who projects to be their second baseman for the next decade. This someone could never be the leader that Pedroia is. He may never play, defensively, better than him. But he will produce better at the plate and on the base paths, and be a better all-around player than Pedey over the next ten years. That someone is Mookie Betts.
At the age of 21, Betts has already proven he belongs in the big leagues right now. He is hitting .310 in September while showing advanced plate discipline. This is par for the course for Betts who hit .315 with an .877 OPS in four seasons in the minor leagues. A second baseman by trade, he has been playing in center field and has adjusted satisfactorily. But he is a second baseman.
Combine that with the fact that the Red Sox, suddenly, have a glut of outfielders and it is hard to decipher where Betts fits into the Red Sox future plans. In fact, there is no other player on the team that I have a harder time finding a spot for than Betts. And the reason is Dustin Pedroia.
Here is a list of Red Sox outfield candidates for 2015: Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Rusney Castillo, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino (remember him?), and Jackie Bradley, Jr. (I still have faith). That doesn’t even factor in any outfielder the Red Sox may bring in via free agency or trade (ahem, Giancarlo Stanton). Brock Holt looks to be the super utility guy. Xander Bogaerts is your shortstop or third baseman. Pedroia is your second baseman. That leaves no room for, by far, the Red Sox most productive player this past month.
That is unless Betts can play third base. From my standpoint, all indications point towards trading Betts… and that is a shame. I’d hate to see it, and it would be a mistake. Betts and Bogaerts should be the Red Sox 1-2 in the lineup for the next ten years. The Sox can fill in spots three through nine, but those two should be engraved at the top of the lineup.
Instead, we’re going to see Pedroia somewhere in the top three of the lineup, hitting .280-.290 with single-digit home runs and diminished speed on the base paths. Pedroia stole as many bases as he was caught stealing this year– six. In 2008 and 2010, he stole a combined 29 bases in 30 attempts.
Trading Pedroia is not an option. He has a no-trade clause in his contract. That was a poor bit of negotiating by the Red Sox. In fact, the whole contract extension thing was a mistake. Red Sox fans have enjoyed the last few years watching the Yankees being hamstrung by albatross contracts, but, as the old saying goes, people in glass houses shouldn’t cast stones. When you watch Jeter play for the final time this weekend at Fenway (if he, indeed, plays), take a moment to consider this will be Dustin Pedroia in a few years. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts will be a star somewhere else.