We haven’t quite reached uncharted territory, but it’s going to be unusual to not have number 15 in the Opening Day lineup. But as any coach, manager, or front office affiliate will attest, injuries are part of the game.
So, how do the Sox make do without Pedroia? First we must determine what needs to be replaced. Certainly, it’s not a voice in the clubhouse. Nor is it power, as Pedey clubbed a colossal seven home runs and 19 two baggers in 2017, while averaging just one long ball per 43 at bats. But his defensive capabilities, although slipping, are integral to the infield defense. We don’t know who will be at first, Xander isn’t exactly a range extraordinaire, and we saw late last season that Devers can hold his own, but is capable of misfiring a throw or letting a chopper eat him up.
Next, his offensive contributions; what is he giving Boston, that the lineup will sorely miss? Firstly, he’s still an on base machine. Hard to believe he led the Sox in OBP last season, although it was in only 105 games; but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a career .300 hitter and still can draw plenty of walks. In fact, he was the only Red Sox to have a higher BB total than K’s. Couple that with his annual (when healthy) 95 runs per season, and there’s big shoes to fill. Well, figuratively. More like size 9’s from a physical standpoint.
So, the team will be lacking defensive stability from second base, and a top of the lineup run scorer with a propensity to get on base. Every app, website, tweet and news source is giving Pedroia a 7 month timetable for recovery. But it would behoove of Dave Dombrowski to approach the situation with caution: plan as if Dustin will be out for the year. So let’s examine the three potential options; find an in house replacement, surrender more prospects in a trade, or sign a free agent.
1. Stay in house – the least appealing choice, but most cost efficient. Who do they have, anyways? Well, there’s a glut of middle infielders with similar skill sets, namely Josh Rutledge, Brock Holt, and Marco Hernandez. The homers will say Holt, referencing his all star season in left field, the year Boston simply had no one worthy of being a All Star rep, really. But after a .200 hitting concussed season, he can’t be relied upon to fill the void Pedroia is leaving for X amount of months. Same for Rutledge and Hernandez; injury riddled in 2017, and really, they’re just not starting players at this point in their careers. Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero make better cases than the previously three, but again, are these starting infielders on a franchise that expects pennants and championships on a yearly basis? No. Not quite yet.
2. A trade – Trades are fun. Just ask Dave the dealer. But do you give up minor league prospects, in a weakening farm, for 3-6 months of a starter, assuming Pedey makes a full recovery for the end of ’18 and start of ’19? Not wise. But, their may be some names available on the market this offseason. Scooter Gennett and his 97 RBI could be moved by the Reds, Jed Lowrie (49 doubles this season) has a team option that may not be exercised by Oakland, and if Detroit enters full rebuild mode, they may be looking to dump $11M off the books, and move Ian Kinsler in the final year of his pact.
3. Free Agents – I’ll just write what everyone is thinking: re-sign Noonie. Unless you’re in the Neil Walker or ageless Brandon Phillips camp, Eduardo is the top option at the position. As mentioned, Lowrie may be bought out, but Billy Beane probably won’t pay $6 million to let almost 50 doubles walk away; no value there. So if fellow free agents Stephen Drew, Dustin Ackley and Chase Utley aren’t getting you excited, it appears that Nunez is indeed the top free agent alternative.
Maybe the Pedroia injury has a silver lining, which would be that this is the push DD will need to bring back the popular spark plug of last August and September, if it wasn’t already a top priority. Nunez will most likely demand 3-5 years, however, which would leave Boston with a litany of infielders once (if?) Pedroia returns from knee surgery. But, that’s a good problem to have – there’s no such thing as too much talent.