Since he made his debut with the Red Sox, few players have garnered as much admiration as Dustin Pedroia.
This popularity is well deserved, of course, as Pedroia has been central to just about any success Boston has had in the past decade. He’s a former AL MVP winner, a four-time All-Star and has long been one of the best defensive second basemen in the game.
For these reasons, the long-term extension that Pedroia and the Red Sox agreed to back in 2013 drew all but universal praise. Indeed, at the time, the deal looked like a slam dunk for Boston. Pedroia signed an eight-year, $110 million contract that would keep him with the club through the 2021 campaign.
For the Red Sox, the thought of locking up someone with Pedroia’s track record, talent level and work ethic felt like a no-brainer. The deal called for Pedroia to earn just under $14 million annually over the course of the contract, which stood as an absolute steal financially from Boston’s perspective. Elite second baseman earn far more than that out on the open market, and later in the offseason, Robinson Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million megadeal that only made Pedroia’s extension look even better in comparison.
Yet just two years since the agreement was announced, Pedroia’s deal looks like far less of a steal for the Red Sox. After missing 27 games a season ago (and playing through a wrist injury), Pedroia has again hit the DL on multiple occasions in 2015. This time it’s a nagging hamstring strain that won’t go away, and both his playing time and performance have suffered as a result.
The 31-year-old’s power has partially returned after a career-worst campaign in that department a season ago. Much of this is likely because his wrist has finally healed, but that hasn’t stopped other injuries from popping up. And even with the return of some power, Pedroia’s offensive performance isn’t exactly trending in the right direction. He’s far from the elite bat he was during his prime:
Even beyond these numbers, Pedroia’s seen his value decrease elsewhere as well. He’s been a below-average baserunner over the past three seasons, and his defensive numbers have also noticeably dipped in 2015, though it’s important to be wary of advanced fielding metrics over just a half-season sample.
Given his strong track record in the field, Pedroia likely deserves the benefit of the doubt here. That doesn’t mean his future outlook is any rosier, however.
Would the Red Sox hand Pedroia the same offer today that the two sides agreed to back in 2013? It’s hard to believe they would, even if the financial commitment in terms of overall money won’t handicap them by any means. The highest yearly salary Boston will pay Pedroia is $16 million in 2018, which is roughly what a two-win player costs on the open market.
With their payroll, the Red Sox can stomach that type of salary with ease, and Pedroia’s still a decent bet to provide some value even if his skills continue to diminish.
The biggest issue with the contract is just how long it is, especially for a player already struggling through injuries that have sapped his effectiveness. The Red Sox are committed to Pedroia for six more seasons, and he’ll be 38 years old by the end of the deal.
For a player who notably leaves everything out on the field, Pedroia isn’t exactly someone we should expect to age well. Nate Silver’s past research on second baseman at BP shows how quickly second baseman can decline, and Pedroia’s style of play is certainly one that takes a physical toll on the body. Considering the injuries he’s suffered the past two years, perhaps it already has.
Would the Red Sox hand Pedroia the same offer today that the two sides agreed to back in 2013? It’s hard to believe they would.
The good news for the Red Sox is that Pedroia’s contract won’t become a financial albatross in the same manner that Ryan Howard’s or Justin Verlander’s has for their respective teams. Ben Cherington took a risk when he gave Pedroia such a lengthy deal, but it was a calculated gamble, and one that wouldn’t cost Boston too dearly if the second baseman’s performance declined earlier than expected. Plus, Pedroia’s questionable health is yet another reason why Brock Holt brings added value to the Red Sox. Assuming Boston decides to hold onto Holt, he can serve as a solid security blanket for whenever Pedroia goes down with an injury. And when Pedroia’s healthy, of course, Holt can fill in just about anywhere else in the field.
Even if his contract won’t handicap the Red Sox too much moving forward, Pedroia’s health as he ages further into his thirties remains a topic of concern for the team. Given the length of the deal, Boston has all but committed to Pedroia as its starting second baseman to the end of the decade. When healthy, he’s still shown the ability to produce at an above-average level, but whether he can avoid these repeated injuries remains a big question mark.
That Pedroia is no longer a centerpiece the Red Sox can necessarily depend on demonstrates how uncertain the club’s future is. Boston has long relied on Pedroia and David Ortiz as its offensive core, but with both players enduring recent struggles, that time is likely coming to an end. This reality only makes Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts more essential, and the team will build around that duo in the coming years.
Pedroia’s days as an important contributor to the Red Sox aren’t over by any means. His performance in 2015 has demonstrated he can still contribute with the bat when healthy.
Yet any talk of his contract being a steal is outdated at this point, especially as injuries continue to take their toll on his production.
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